Chapter 1: Prelude
June 22, 2003.
It was six o'clock in the godforsaken morning, thought Harry Potter, as he trudged wearily through the front door of his little house in Godric's Hollow. At least he didn't have to deal with people trying to talk to him; Hermione had put such powerful protective charms on his house that even people who had license to visit and could see the building if they stood near it usually couldn't actually remember where he lived. But seriously, it was way too late. Ron was still in the office yelling at people, because when the Chief Auror and his Deputy got into a fight like that with no warning whatsoever it meant that someone somewhere had royally fucked up, but someone had hit Harry with some kind of exhaustion hex, and he wanted to be asleep eight hours ago. He didn't even bother turning on any lights, just stumbled groggily into the bedroom, tripped over Arnold the Pygmy Puff, and swore slightly too loudly.
Ginny jumped as if electrocuted, and three seconds later Harry was flat on his back on the floor with her foot on his ribcage and her wand at his throat, feeling suddenly much more awake.
He held very, very still. "Ginny. It's me. It's Harry. The war's over. You won. It's okay."
Sometimes people at Quidditch games gave him these ridiculously hateful looks, like getting the Harpies' star Chaser to marry him by being Harry Potter was somehow cheating. As if they thought if only they were rich and famous enough, they could get famous successful Ginny Weasley to cook them dinner and be their decorative social event date, or whatever it was they expected. The vast majority of people, Harry found, did not even consider the fact that famous successful Ginny Weasley had been possessed by Voldemort when she was eleven, had co-led a violent resistance movement when she was barely sixteen, that she had spent her sixth year of school being assaulted at random moments and fighting for her life against, in some cases, her adult professors. There was a darkness in her, a sharp poisonous bite of vengefulness that didn't quite go away with the end of the war. She slept with her wand and had a faster draw time from a cold start than most Aurors. She flinched at sudden noises and cried in her sleep.
She sat awake with him when he had nightmares, too, and sang him gentle lullabyes. She tutted at him about the state of his poor broomstick which had seen entirely too many firefights, and fixed it for him when he wasn't looking. Ginny was terrifying and a little broken, but so was he, and he loved her like nothing else in the world. He cooked for her, usually, and the way she smiled - sudden and bright, like fire catching - was one of his favorite things in life, somewhere up there with unassisted flight. Still. He suspected the strangers who gave him hateful looks when she jumped into his arms straight off her broomstick did not actually realize how frightening Ginny was if you woke her up unexpectedly.
Harry didn't move. Ginny was shaking all over, but her wand hand was very steady. "I love you," he added, in the same even, soothing voice. It was still mostly dark and she couldn't actually see him very well, he knew, but the look on his face right now was probably unbearably sappy anyway. Sometimes Ron made affectionate fun of him for it, because he wasn't actually doing it on purpose, but generally only after it had sufficiently done its job of convincing Ginny that he was, in fact, Harry and he did, in fact, love her and he was not, in fact, going to try to murder her in her sleep. "I love you and you're safe and please breathe, okay?"
Seven AM found him lying in bed petting Ginny's hair, and no one had been injured and everything was okay. It was fine, he'd skip work tomorrow, Ron had things under control, Ron was great like that. Right now he had important things to do. He drifted off to sleep to the sound of Ginny murmuring, "Love you."
Chapter 2: What The Fuck
Harry Potter woke up.
He felt immediately wrong.
For one thing, he was cold. He'd gone to sleep warm, under a thick down quilt and with his wife wrapped up in his arms. He was now lying under a thin, threadbare wool-ish blanket, and he was very alone.
For another thing, he felt claustrophobic. His bedroom was an wide, airy space, with big windows and a high ceiling. He was now, he was pretty sure, in a very small, dark, confined space.
For yet another thing, he felt ... tiny?
"Lumos," he said, out of sheer habit, and nothing happened. Usually that worked if he was within arm's reach of his wand.
Quick physical examination yielded the information that he was not injured in any meaningful way - all his bones were where they belonged and he didn't appear to be bleeding anywhere - but he didn't have his glasses and also he was perfectly clean-shaven. And he was much, much skinnier than he should be.
He felt around him a little bit, and found that there was a small shelf, a very small pile of probably clothes, a string for a light, and a wall within arm's reach in both directions. He turned on the light and found that he was somewhere alarmingly familiar, and wearing too-large clothes that he knew had once belonged to his cousin Dudley, when Dudley was ... probably three or four. He was less blind than he should be, for not having his glasses, which probably meant he was Polyjuiced as someone who wasn't blind. But he didn't feel like he was under Polyjuice, the feeling was distinctive once you'd done it enough times, your skin sort of itched faintly and magic was a little bit more difficult. When had he gotten glasses? When he was six or seven? Right now he was in a body that looked like it was ... five, maybe.
"If this is some kind of prank, I am going to set someone on fire," said Harry aloud. The Weasleys didn't do pranks anymore, as a general family agreement, and anyway none of them would have been this cruel. Anyone who decided to kidnap Harry, force him into the body of a small child, and throw him into a convincing facsimile of the cupboard under the stairs at 4 Privet Drive, was almost definitely doing it on purpose to hurt him. Although who thought that could possibly be a good idea was still a mystery to him. Nothing happened in response to the words, so he sighed and cast about him for further clues. Nothing looked strange, here. Small pile of hand-me-down clothes. A couple of small broken toys Dudley hadn't wanted, which looked vaguely familiar in a haven't-seen-them-in-two-decades kind of way. Flickering single light bulb. Miscellaneous spiders, joy. No signs of magic, obvious or otherwise.
The door was locked from the outside, naturally.
Well. He wasn't going to just sit here and wonder what the hell was going on. Guess I'll do the obvious thing.
He was five years old, apparently, but he was a magical five-year-old, because that would be true even if they'd Polyjuiced him into a Muggle kid.
Magical children could, under stress, eat the kind of damage that would outright kill Muggle adults.
Heeeere goes nothing -
There was a loud crunching sound, as his elbow went through the wooden door like it was tissue paper. Faintly, he heard someone shriek. He reached through the hole he'd just made, unlatched the door, and stepped out of it, carefully, looking around him.
He did, actually, appear to be in the front hall of the Dursleys' old house. There were pictures on the wall of Dudley - ages one through five - just like there ought to be, and this looked plausibly like he thought it probably had in, what year was he five years old, nineteen eighty-six? Yeah. Wow, there was even an old rotary telephone, he thought in amusement. Someone was trying really hard for this charade. There was the dated-looking television and the carefully vacuumed floor and the couch, and -
"What the ruddy hell do you think you're doing, boy?"
- and there, apparently, was Vernon Dursley, storming down the stairs and looking enraged and not at all like he was fifty-ish years old. Or forty-ish? Harry honestly did not know how old his uncle was supposed to be. He knew Dudley was his age, and Vernon had probably been at least twenty when he married Petunia, so he was probably somewhere between forty-five and fifty-five. But this guy looked maaaaaybe thirty? And yet he still was clearly, visibly, Vernon Dursley. Had someone broken into the Dursleys' house, stolen Vernon's hair to Polyjuice into him, and then taken De-Aging Potion, just to look convincingly like the version of Harry's Muggle uncle who'd existed twenty years ago? Harry basically understood the cruel intent of causing him to wake up locked in a cupboard, the idea was probably for him to panic from PTSD, but this seemed a little bit like too much effort for too little gain. Whoever it was had managed to kidnap him right out from under a very stressed Ginny's nose; that that point they might as well just kill him if they hated him this much.
"Um, this is a really strange prank," said Harry. Maybe they'd tried to kill him, freaked out, and invented a bizarre fictional setup to try to cover their tracks? A lot of people still didn't realize that he was immune to the Killing Curse, funnily enough. He usually ducked that one out of habit anyway, and it wasn't like he went about publicizing the fact that being Master of Death had apparently made him permanently immune; he hadn't even known about it for five years after the Battle of Hogwarts, and most people who found out got arrested in fairly short order. For, well, trying to murder the Chief Auror. So it wasn't common knowledge, and people tended to panic when they encountered it ... that really didn't adequately explain this, though.
Also, fake-Vernon was now yelling at him. Harry tuned in. " - feed you, clothe you, and this is how you choose to repay us, you little freak of nature - "
Well, that was familiar. "Are you an actor or did someone force-feed you Polyjuice and an Imperius Curse?" he wondered bemusedly. The yelling continued more or less uninterrupted. "Oh, wait, yeah, you can't answer that if you're Imperiused, sorry," said Harry after another moment, frowning. Fake-Vernon bellowed something about him not listening, which to be fair was a legitimate complaint, and tried to grab him. Harry sidestepped, felt a vague sense of absent muscle memory, and wished for a wand. With a wand he could, for instance, hit this guy with a finite incantatem and see if his behavior changed. He didn't want to hurt the guy if he was some random innocent, possibly Muggle, guy who'd been enchanted. "Who the hell managed to put together such a convincing fake, anyway? Most people don't even know I've got a cousin - wow, don't hurt yourself," he added, as fake-Vernon's wild swings at him, increasingly furious, nearly propelled the ponderous man into the wall. Point in favor of him being Polyjuiced, most people weren't that clumsy in their own bodies. Although it was possible that actual Vernon Dursley really was that inept, given that over the course of seventeen very unfriendly years he had never actually managed to seriously injure Harry.
"What the hell are you talking about, boy?"
Okay, this line of question was going to go nowhere, he could tell. "Accio wand?" Harry tried, making the relevant hand gesture. That usually worked if there was a reasonably compatible wand within a reasonably close range. A certain night of dragon-induced stress, and a tendency to get disarmed whenever someone managed to reflect his favorite spell back at him, had made him good at that spell in particular. Ron could do a better wandless blasting hex, Ginny could occasionally manage Disillusionment, and Hermione could block most jinxes without her wand or her voice, but none of them could put a candle to Harry's summoning charm.
Nothing happened. He could feel his magic flex, feel the spell go off - but nothing happened. There weren't any wands anywhere near him. So this guy was probably actually an innocent Muggle enchanted to believe he was Vernon Dursley and that he should be extremely angry at this little boy who has just broken part of his house, not an evil wizard in disguise. Although, really, it was starting to get implausible that anyone who disliked Harry enough to set this up actually had enough background information about the Dursleys and his relationship to them that this charade hadn't broken down into pieces yet. He wasn't really listening, but he was pretty sure there was some convincingly insincere yelling about magic not being real in there, and it was hard to fake that precise kind of willful, angry self-delusion.
But if it wasn't a fake ... as was seeming increasingly likely ... that would imply that he was ... actually, really, in 1986.
Which seemed even less plausible, to be honest. And much, much worse.
"Faaaaantastic," sighed Harry. "This is going to be a great day, I can already tell."
Chapter 3: No, Seriously, What The Fuck
Petunia, or a very convincing facsimile thereof, turned up about ten minutes later. She started yelling too, but Harry didn't pay much attention to that, either. He was busy absently dodging maybe-not-fake-Vernon and muttering to himself. "No magic." The only sign so far of magic, at all, had been the fact that he'd woken up somewhere different than where he remembered going to sleep. Technically it was even probably possible to achieve that without magic, although he couldn't actually think of any plausible way anyone could have gotten him away from Ginny without a lot of magic and probably also a lot of sneaking. And the fact that this setup shouldn't have been possible without magic, since these people no longer existed. Well, they were alive last time he checked, but he hadn't spoken to either of them since he left their house for the last time; he was on Christmas-card terms with Dudley but that was about it.
(Speaking of - when he paid attention for a moment, he noticed that a small child, probably his cousin or the relevant impostor, was shrieking upstairs.)
So there had to be some magic going on. But he'd been unable to find any. "Not even any wands, so there's not even anyone in range watching?" This was a bizarrely realistic fake, if it was fake. Which meant he might have to provisionally accept that it might actually be happening. "Unless I'm crazy, I guess." He probably wasn't just a five year old with extremely creative delusions, though, because he had actually broken through the cupboard door and he was pretty sure ordinary Muggle children couldn't do that without seriously injuring themselves. Plus, maybe-fake-Vernon would probably sound more sure about magic not being real, if it actually wasn't. Although he didn't appear to be in any particular immediate danger; the real Vernon generally just wanted to shake him up, not do him actual harm, and if this one was actually trying to kill him he wasn't doing a very good job of it.
So, problem-solving. "What do - no, what can I do?" he asked himself. He didn't have a wand, he wasn't big enough to be able to inflict incapacitating-but-not-lethal damage on this guy even if he was just an enchanted Muggle. The only thing he could even maybe achieve without a wand was to poke someone's eyes out with his fingers, because that didn't actually require that much force, and that would be ... well ... excessive would probably be the right word. They weren't probably going to tell him anything useful, whether because they were Imperiused or they actually didn't know anything or they were actually his aunt and uncle or some combination. Which meant he couldn't use any of his standard problem-solving methods, really, except run away, and at the moment he was a little bit too curious what was going on to do that. Finding things out wasn't really his wheelhouse, so - "What would Hermione do," he wondered, humming thoughtfully. Hermione's standard practice when put under pressure while separated from her wand, he thought, was to invent creative lies until she had it again. This, unfortunately, he was terrible at. What else? Ginny tended to make variably outlandish threats and/or flirt. Ron would just hit people until they gave him his wand back. Harry was pretty much terrible at all of those things. What else ... "Wait, I know." What could any of them do without their wands? You could Animage. It didn't actually expend magic energy once you burned it into your magical core with the Animagus forming ritual, that was why Sirius had been able to do it in Azkaban. And that particular very rare skill was also one of the quickest ways on record to break Polyjuice.
Harry ducked, spread his wings, and abruptly was a bird.
Hermione had gone back to Hogwarts for her seventh year, because she cared about that kind of thing more than he and Ron did. She and Ginny had been so starved for things to do when they suddenly found themselves only doing homework and not, say, running entire resistance movements, that they'd gotten special dispensation and learned to be Animagi as an extra credit project for their NEWT Transfiguration class. (Hermione was, to her eternal delight, an otter; she had installed a huge pond in the backyard of her and Ron's house and waterproofed her entire library. Ginny had turned into a tiger, which was both terrifying and surprisingly adorable; George had pictures of an extremely confused Harry petting the tiger which had turned up without warning in his flat and demanded that he cuddle with it.) To exactly no one's surprise, they'd then spent most of the following summer teaching Harry and Ron to do the same thing. Ron was a red-tailed hawk and Harry was a peregrine falcon, and they had both been irrepressibly ecstatic for weeks after discovering that they could fly without broomsticks.
So Harry figured the obvious thing to try was the easy way to check whether he was under Polyjuice or otherwise made to look not like himself. One of the quirks of the Animagus transformation was that it cancelled any kind of illusion or Transfiguration, being insufficiently complex to do anything other than return the body to its unaltered state. It was related to how you couldn't hide or remove injuries using it; he'd learned the hard way, a few years ago, that it was also very dangerous to Animage while under the influence of medical magic. And so, with a brief thought and a shift of perspective, he was a bird.
Harry tried to take flight, failed, and promptly hit the floor in a confused ball of fluff. After a few minutes of flailing, he turned back into himself and narrowly rolled out of the way of a shrieking Petunia who'd tried to hit him with a broom.
He had not anticipated finding himself a baby peregrine falcon, although on reflection this had probably been silly of him. And very tiny baby birds did not actually have enough wingspan to successfully oppose gravity, for all that they were composed almost entirely of hollow bones and fluff. He was lucky he was a magic tiny baby peregrine falcon, or he would probably have broken half of his bones by flinging himself so dramatically at the wooden floor.
At any rate, he was, upon returning to human form, still five years old. Or whatever. He wasn't really sure.
"Okaaay," said Harry, scrambling to his feet and continuing to ignore the background noise of his Muggle relatives losing their collective shit. Something something black sorcery something something evil demons, whatever. "So ... not Polyjuice, not human Transfiguration, not glamour ... does Animagus break De-Aging Potion?" He'd never checked, it had never come up before. "Damn. Um ... what would Hermione do, what would Hermione do ... test to distinguish cases ... what would be different if I was actually in 1986 that couldn't plausibly be faked?" In the background someone said something derisive about where he would be if it weren't the present, but that wasn't important, they would say that regardless of whether it were true. (At least his guess about where he was supposed to be was right? Small victories.) In theory any particular additional person could probably be faked if you started from the point of assuming the perpetrators knew enough about his life to do such a freakishly accurate impression of the Dursleys, but the likelihood that it was a fake would go down the more people you checked, there had to be some resource limit on that. He didn't know of any way to block Apparition, so it'd be dramatically more likely to work if he tried going somewhere he'd expect to see real people and not fakes - actually, first check, what if he tried going to Privet Drive?
He spun on his heels and attempted to Apparate to the front hall of Number Four, Privet Drive.
He found himself roughly two feet away from where he'd started, with the shrieking at an even higher pitch because, as far as Petunia was concerned, five-year-old boys definitely should not be able to teleport. Even though he'd totally done that once before when he was little - no, that had been when he was seven or eight, wasn't it? Oh, well. "Okay, so this is the real house, awesome," sighed Harry. You couldn't Apparate into Azkaban and he didn't particularly want to, so he couldn't easily check if Sirius was there, which was too bad, it was much harder to impersonate dead people and it would take a lot of convincing before he'd trust a maybe-real Ron or Hermione or Ginny at this point, they would be the obvious people to impersonate and whoever was responsible for this had already demonstrated the ability to kidnap him in the middle of the night without waking up Ginny.
Who should be dead in the present and wasn't dead in 1986 and would be really hard to convincingly fake and, for bonus points, would probably be extraordinarily helpful if it turned out Harry had somehow actually been catapulted twenty years into the past?
He couldn't Apparate to Hogwarts, of course, but he already knew he was actually at the Dursleys' house, and from the starting premise that he was magically in the past he could presume that the blood wards still existed and were powered by his presence, and he was pretty sure Dumbledore had some way of monitoring them ... "Hmm, how do I set off that alarm really fast?" he wondered. It had apparently been necessary that he return to the house at least once a year for a couple of weeks in order for them to work, and magic usually worked on intent, so if he just declared very definitively and honestly that he was never returning to Privet Drive ever again, it might actually collapse them on the spot ... that hadn't happened when he was thirteen, though, and at the time he hadn't really expected to ever go back ... It might be a slightly bad idea, he didn't know how much those wards had actually protected him, but at least it would prevent Dumbledore from having an excuse to force him to come back here, if it turned out he really was a kid again.
He could at least try declaring intent never to return, he'd feel stupid if that was all he had to do and he didn't think to bother.
"This is not my home and I am leaving and never coming back," he announced loudly.
There was uninteresting yelling about how (a) that was illegal because he was five and (b) they'd be glad to be rid of him, the ungrateful wretch and (c) it'd serve him right when he starved to death, and so on, but he was more interested in the total lack of anything happening. He'd seen ward systems collapse, it was extremely dramatic and there was a lot of blue light, purple if they were blood-based. The total lack of response meant that hadn't worked even a little bit. "Great. Okay. Worth a shot," he grumbled. He wasn't really sure what else to try. He was kind of a shitty wardbreaker even with a wand, and these were pretty strong wards. And if he didn't break them Dumbledore probably would force him to stay here, which he didn't want to do even a little bit.
So summoning Dumbledore somehow might actually not be the best idea in the world, come to think of it.
A lot of things would be bad ideas if it turned out he was really in the past.
"New plan," he muttered. People who were dead and therefore hard to impersonate well. People he knew well enough to distinguish from a bad impersonation. People who wouldn't also cause a huge problem if he found them. Fred was trivially easy to imitate with someone who wasn't dead. Harry hadn't known Lavender well enough, nor Colin. Dobby would be at Malfoy Manor, not a good idea. Sirius was in Azkaban ... Remus? - Tonks. Tonks would be extremely hard to impersonate, Metamorphmagi were extraordinarily rare. You could probably do it with Teddy, in theory, he had pictures of his mother, but Harry was sort of dubious that he'd actually be able to convincingly imitate an adult. So Tonks would definitely be a good person to try to locate. Wait, but how old would she be in 1986? She was, what, seven years older than him? She'd already been out of Auror training when he met her, so she had to have been at least twenty or twenty-one when he was fifteen, unless she'd finished training early, which seemed unlikely with Mad-Eye in charge; he wasn't the type to let anyone off easy. So, at least five or six years, maybe a little more, he didn't remember seeing her at Hogwarts but she'd been a Hufflepuff so if she'd been sixth or seventh year during his first year he probably wouldn't have noticed her. She might have been as young as ten when he was five. That meant they totally could in theory get Teddy to impersonate her, he was seven, that wasn't that far off. Shit. And Andromeda had started Teddy on Imperius resistance training recently, she had a thing about that, but he probably wasn't immune yet.
Who else? He could try the Burrow, it would be rather difficult to convincingly reconstruct the Burrow in the right place and populate it with all the right fake Weasleys at the right ages, especially without drawing the attention of actual Weasleys or possibly Lovegood-Scamanders. But if he was actually in the past, he wasn't entirely sure even that was a good idea, no matter how much he liked the Weasleys. He was increasingly unsure that he should actually be letting anyone know what was going on, particularly not Dumbledore, because Dumbledore had spent years shutting him out due to his youth and inexperience and he wasn't at all confident that it wouldn't happen again. He could probably convince the Headmaster that he wasn't actually five years old, but he might inadvertently end up sounding like he had been possessed by Tom and getting locked in the dungeons for the rest of his natural life. That would be ... terrifyingly plausible, actually, he'd have to be careful of that one ...
... and if he showed up at the Burrow, and it really was 1986, Molly would call Dumbledore. Immediately. Without question. He loved that woman like his own mother, but she was nothing if not loyal to the Head of the Order of the Phoenix.
"This is hard," he grumbled, absently dodging a frying pan. Wow, they were trying harder now. Did he actually have a reason to still be here? Initially it had been because he was concerned that they might be innocent people that needed rescuing from the awful fate of being permanently convinced that they were Petunia and Vernon Dursley, but it was starting to feel increasingly likely that they actually were, in fact, Petunia and Vernon Dursley, and would continue to be so for the rest of their lives ... Wait, that wasn't right, he hadn't actually checked anything yet, he'd just invented a bunch of plausible reasons not to try. And he had no idea how well these people might have been educated or enchanted, so he didn't have any clear way of checking directly whether they were actually the people they appeared to be. He needed to try someone else. Which meant going somewhere else.
If they were really the Dursleys, was he coming back here? No.
If they weren't, did he have reason to still be here right now instead of coming back to help them after he had figured out what was going on and got hold of a wand with which do so? ... Also no.
"Right, I'm leaving," he announced. There wasn't anything here he wanted, regardless of whether it was the real place or not; everything he owned was either at his own house (if it was still the present) or didn't yet belong to him (if it was the past). If this was a trap they'd probably be expecting him to try either going home or going straight to the Auror Office or going to Ron and Hermione's flat, so he avoided all three of those things. He didn't want to run into Dumbledore yet, he was pretty sure, so he also didn't go to Hogwarts or to the Burrow. He briefly considered trying Neville and then realized that a 1986 Neville obviously was neither at Hogwarts nor in his little flat above the Leaky Cauldron, either of those places was dangerous if it was 1986, and he didn't actually know where Augusta Longbottom lived. He could go to St. Mungo's and ask them to figure out why he was magically five, but if he was actually five they would just report him to the Ministry for being an unattended minor and there would be some sort of huge kerfuffle over him because, well, he was Harry Potter.
So he went back to his very first plan, and he Apparated to Azkaban.
You couldn't actually Apparate into the prison, but he just picked the most familiar accessible point nearby, the one Aurors used for guard shift changes.
He realized almost immediately that this had been stupid, because he was greeted instantly with startled yells and the sound of people drawing wands. He also realized almost immediately that this was probably adequate proof that he was really in the past. He recognized Dawlish and Savage, both of whom looked younger than he remembered, and it actually did seem slightly more likely that he was actually in the past for some reason than that some unknown person or people had managed to take over and replace the Azkaban guard detail without setting off any alarms. Someone had actually tried that once, and set off a half dozen ancient security charms that had been there since well before Mad-Eye retired. Shacklebolt had immediately replaced the spells and given everyone a lecture about Adequate Paranoia.
So this was probably going to suck, because he knew nothing about time travel except that it was almost invariably a complete disaster, even if it sometimes let you save lots of lives, and fuck, if it was really 1986 that meant Tom was still alive, he was going to have to do everything all over again and oh, hell, this was going to be awful.
But on the bright side: there were now wands in his range.
He ducked three Stunners, pointed his index finger at Matt Savage (who was considerably more dangerous than Dawlish) and said clearly, "Accio wand!", and then suddenly there was one in his hand. He had to dodge and block five more subdual spells in the process - two from Dawlish, one from Savage who could cast a wandless Stunning Jinx albeit more slowly than the normal kind, and two from, he had to assume, an invisible Proudfoot. John Proudfoot spent the vast majority of his field time invisible, as he did an excellent Disillusionment Charm and didn't much like people paying attention to him; it was, on average, safe to assume that if you saw Savage, Proudfoot was somewhere in the vicinity.
But now he was armed, and even if these weren't fake Aurors, well ... it was 1986. The war had been over for five years, everyone was a little out of practice, and Amelia Bones was vastly under-supplied with resources and staff. Dawlish was mostly useless. Savage and Proudfoot were good, but they were relatively new to their jobs; they'd still been in training when the first war ended, and a lot of the training the Auror office usually gave its trainees had been missing from the curriculum due to lack of competent instructors. Serious unarmed combat, protocols for dealing with the wizarding world's honestly insane rate of nearly unprecedented nonsense, detailed group tactics... they had had to learn all that by experience, and it was experience that they didn't have, yet. Worse yet for them, he was visibly a little kid; he was missing a bunch of his muscle memory, but his instincts were all still mostly there, and they weren't expecting him to fight like an Auror. They were not, for that matter, expecting him to fight like Harry Potter, who, he had been told, fought like an erratic nutcase because he'd been in more honest-to-god fights to the death than most Aurors long before anyone had ever actually tried to teach him how to duel.
He whited out the alarm transmitters first thing. Then he slid sideways, Stunned Dawlish, lit up Proudfoot and a good fraction of Savage with a shower of glowing scarlet glitter, and giggled slightly hysterically when they both started swearing colorfully (Savage in Greek). Now he could see both of them, and two on one was a fight he could handle when one of them was unarmed. He smirked, and regretted it immediately when Savage gave him a very suspicious look that suggested he knew five-year-olds did not make that facial expression. He blocked a half a dozen increasingly creative hexes, shattered Savage's haphazard and mostly Proudfoot-powered shields, missed completely at the attempt to Stun him, and dodged several more spells. (If nothing else, his muscle memory already contained the instructions for duck.) As Harry was reinforcing his own shields, Proudfoot said incredulously, "Is that Harry Potter?"
"Nope," said Harry immediately, "just a very good imitation," because he didn't especially want to get arrested and also it was funny. He was going to have to Obliviate them both anyway, though, because he failed utterly to keep the sarcasm out of his tone, though not for lack of trying. Then he took advantage of the distraction to break Proudfoot's excellent shielding, scoot jaggedly sideways again to dodge a slowdown curse, and Stun him. Then he was one-on-one with Savage. Savage was probably the best duellist of the three by far, but he also currently didn't have a wand or decent shielding, so it took Harry about the space of five seconds to take him down. Then he confiscated Proudfoot and Dawlish's wands, handcuffed all three to convenient furniture, and Obliviated them of his presence, before he scurried down the steps. He had at absolute best maybe ten minutes before they missed their fifteen-minute-interval radio check-in and the alarms went off, even assuming none of them had done that the moment he'd shown up.
So he'd have to worry about the more complex implications of suddenly being twenty years in the past later.
Right now he had a godfather to rescue.
Chapter 4: This Was Not A Good Idea
Harry took a brief, necessary moment to seal the doors behind him. The stack of spells he used wouldn't be that difficult to break, especially for Aurors, but it would give him a little bit of precious time.
He was barely halfway down the steps to the minus-first floor (Azkaban was almost entirely underground, despite being on a shallow island; Harry had honestly never bothered to wonder how that worked) when the alarms started blaring loudly. He winced; that was much faster than he'd expected. They must have been close to their check-in time when he dropped in. This would have been an extremely convenient moment to be a peregrine falcon, Harry was sure, but apparently he wasn't old enough to fly. Hermione had this theory that little kids could be taught to Animage, like how they were better at languages and wandless magic, but apparently there might be a flaw in that scheme. Although, he supposed, it was probably less of a flaw if you weren't a bird. Ginny-the-tiny-tiger-kitten would probably be the most adorable thing to ever exist, and he didn't doubt she would still be extremely dangero -
Fuck, Ginny wasn't going to remember him.
Harry indulged in approximately ten seconds of crushing misery about this realization as he ran, and then he realized that he was in range of the Dementor Guards of Azkaban and this was not, at all, the time. Instead he chose not to think about Ginny for the moment and summoned, mostly by force of will, the mental image of Ron and Hermione's wedding, all paper roses and sunshine and irrepressible smiles on the faces of his dearest friends. The wrong images kept swimming into his head: Dumbledore falling off the Tower, Hermione screaming under Bellatrix's knife, Ron storming away in the middle of a nameless forest. After two unsuccessful attempts with Savage's wand he swapped to Proudfoot's, stumbling along the hallway with a sort of desperate fervor. No, no, no, I will not be defeated by stupid mindless monsters, I am stronger than this, I am, think of family, think of Ginny Ron Hermione Teddy Andromeda Molly Arthur -
At last, to his relief, silver-white Prongs shimmered into existence beside him, loping easily alongside his short-legged sprint and pushing away the creeping soul-stopping cold. He had never been good at coping with the fear aura; even now, after the war, his boggart remained a dementor. He'd spent a long time wondering if that made him a terrible person, that he was still more afraid of the monster than he was of the deaths of people he loved. Hermione and Ron both got corpse boggarts, these days. He'd gotten over it, slowly, after Ginny quietly told him that her boggart was still sixteen-year-old Tom Marvolo Riddle. Still - He had to pause for a moment, lean on his knees, and take a few deep, shuddering breaths.
Then, after that moment, he could afford no further pause. The alarms were blaring. Whoever had been on office shift was probably already upstairs, discovering the unconscious and disarmed bodies of their colleagues. They'd be calling for off-duty backup and trying to break through the door, and although the first thing would take some actual time, the second one might only give Harry as much as a few minutes. Which meant he was about to have probably half a dozen Aurors on his tail, and they definitely ran faster than he did. So he had to make the best of the few minutes he had. Fortunately, he'd been part of the unlucky crew that had to clear this place out when it had been restored from being Voldemort's Super Evil Fortress Of Doom. Shacklebolt had made them write reports on every inch of the building; Harry knew where he was going. The 'high-security' cells reserved for life-term political terrorists i.e. Death Eaters were on the bottom floor, farthest from the door, because of course they were. Sirius would be there, and he could get out of his cell as Padfoot, and Harry could hand him a wand, and -
- he didn't actually have a plan further than that.
The sound of Hermione lecturing him about irresponsible recklessness echoed in his ears as he scrambled down the steps to minus-three, the bottom floor (when your entire country's population was less than ten thousand, you didn't actually need your prisons to be very big). As he ran past the confused Dementors - unable to reach him past Prongs, they only milled angrily - he could also hear the sound of Bellatrix Lestrange laughing. In his head, not in real life, he was at least sixty percent sure. Because, well, the last time he'd flung himself headlong into rescuing Sirius without a coherent plan, it had gone more or less precisely the most wrong, hadn't it? Hadn't he learned his lesson the first time? Or the second time, or the third time, or the fifty-seventh time, no, of course not, people just kept dying because he didn't know what he was doing, didn't they? Seventy-nine dead at the Battle of Hogwarts, some of them children, and they'd been the side that won. Harry had every one of their names burned into his soul, and he could hear their voices telling him how stupid he was. But the voices weren't real, those people were still alive, he told himself strainedly, pulling his Patronus closer. Shut up, shut up, he hissed at the monsters as he ran down the hall, and only much, much later would he realize he had been spitting Parseltongue.
He almost ran right past Sirius.
He would have, if not for the sound his godfather made when he spotted him. It sounded like sort of high-pitched, horrified gasp, like a wince made audible. It sounded like desperate, confused relief and longing. It sounded like more or less exactly what you might expect a man to produce if you took the most important person in his life, murdered that person, took that person's forearm bone and sharpened it into a knife, and then stabbed him through the heart with it. It sounded like, "Prongs - ?"
"Shit," said Harry, skidding to an undignified halt. Sirius's head turned sharply, and he stared at Harry, eyes wide and shocked and white. He had, very clearly, noticed the Patronus first and the caster second. Harry could only imagine what sort of confusion he might now be experiencing at discovering the presence of his very five-year-old godson. So long as he managed to explain himself before Sirius fairly reasonably concluded that he'd been possessed by Voldemort, it would probably be fine. Assuming, of course, that Harry didn't get arrested and thrown in jail right next to him. "Sorry, hi, no time to explain, I've got a wand for you, we need to leave, right now."
"Who the hell are you and why is your Patronus Prongs?" demanded Sirius, his voice shaky but coherent.
"Uh, I'm Harry?" said Harry, bouncing nervously on his toes. "C'mon, the alarms are going off upstairs, we've got like minutes, tops before there are more Aurors in my face than I can remotely plausibly handle when they're actually expecting a fight." He was good, but he'd been lucky. Matt Savage, ordinarily quite dangerous even so early in his career, had been completely unprepared to be disarmed by a five-year-old, and the others hadn't adjusted fast enough to handle the loss of initiative. He'd Obliviated them, so whoever came down here wasn't going to be expecting him either, but they were going to be on guard for something bizarre and dangerous. He had a wand now, and in a moment so would Sirius, but you could only be so outnumbered before no amount of surprise would save you.
Unfortunately, Sirius was still giving him a look that suggested he had no idea what was going on. "Who? Harry who?" he asked, frowning, and totally failing to slip the bars of his cell or even admit that he had any idea how to do that.
What did he mean, Harry wh -
"Fuck," said Harry. Dementors fed on happy memories. That was what they did. When you spent any amount of time in Azkaban, they sucked your happy memories out of you. You could recover them, of course. It was possible to entirely recover from even an extended trip to Azkaban, in fact, given time and support and a great deal of chocolate, but the key word there was time. Nearly a full year had passed between when Sirius escaped from Azkaban and when Harry had met him, during which time Sirius had been propelled entirely or almost entirely by hatred of Wormtail. Harry's parents were probably the subject of Sirius' worst memory, the image of them lying dead which (having been among Snape's memories) haunted Harry as well. Them he could not forget, any more than he could forget his raging need for Peter Pettigrew to be dead. That wasn't a happy memory. But Harry? Harry had been one year old when Sirius lost him, a tiny ball of green-eyed joy who chased James' cat on his toy broomstick and couldn't pronounce 'Moony' properly. Harry would probably have been, in his entirety, a happy memory ...
Sirius could easily not have remembered Harry existed until the day he met him again in the Shrieking Shack. Until then he hadn't actually done anything that suggested he knew he had a godson, for all that everyone assumed he was after Harry; he'd been stalking Ron, the person he knew to be keeping Wormtail as a pet. He'd broken into Gryffindor Tower, gone after Ron, and not paid any more attention to Harry than he had to Neville or Seamus or Dean. He'd made friends with Crookshanks and stolen passwords from Neville, and never tried to contact - no, wait, that wasn't right. He'd sent Harry a Firebolt for Christmas. So he'd at least remembered by then. But that was close to six months' delay, and Harry really didn't have time for that right now.
He had, at best, perhaps a minute.
"You don't remember me because of the Dementors, I think," he said, willing his voice to remain steady, "but I know you're innocent and I need you to trust me."
Sirius frowned suspiciously at him. "Why should I?"
"Look, Wormtail is still alive," tried Harry. Sirius seemed strangely inclined just sit right where he was, as if there was no point in going and being depressed elsewhere when he could just be depressed here. "You can't do anything about that if you just sit here," he pressed. Maybe Sirius thought sticking around near the Dementors would keep the Patronus around longer, or he already thought Harry was Voldemort or some other Death Eater, or he thought he was hallucinating or something. "I already know about the Marauders, you don't need to keep it secret from me, just turn into Padfoot and get through the bars and let's go before I get arrested and we both spend the rest of our natural lives in prison while the real traitor walks free!"
That was a convincing argument, apparently. A moment later, in a wriggling blur of shaggy black fur, Sirius was standing next to him, holding out a hand for a wand. Harry handed him Savage's and turned on his heel to run, wincing as the sound of crashing upstairs heralded the success of the Aurors at breaking through his haphazard door seal. They were going to have to run up the stairs anyway to get out, there was only one entrance or exit to Azkaban Prison, and the faster they did that the better. It probably wasn't plausible that the two of them could actually win a fight against whatever maybe-competent people the Department of Magical Law Enforcement could scramble in five minutes, but they might be able to distract them for long enough to run past the ward lines and Disapparate. They only really needed to get out fast enough that they were gone before more reinforcements showed up. God only knew what they would do if someone managed to get hold of Director Bones.
Harry barely made it three short steps before Sirius made an irritated, dismissive sound, scooped him up with one arm, and took off at a frankly terrifying sprint. Right, thought Harry, hastily twisting into something like a good aiming position with his wand. He had forgotten, again, that he was physically five years old, and that Sirius was, even half-starved, roughly three times his size and capable of running a great deal faster even while carrying him. This was going to be really difficult to get used to if it turned out to be permanent. And so far the world did actually seem to be behaving as if he had actually been magically transported into the body of his younger self, so he was going to have to assume that was the case unless given reason to believe otherwise.
On the bright side, Sirius seemed to know what he was doing. As well he should; there had been a war going on around four years previously, and unlike most of the Ministry-employed police, Sirius had been actively participating. With a wand in his hand, he was glittering blue and purple with half a dozen different shield charms by the time he hit the staircase.
Harry had about thirty seconds to consider where the hell they were even going to go - he realized suddenly that he didn't even know what season it was - before Sirius ran into range of Kingsley Shacklebolt about halfway across minus-two. Sirius showed no signs of recognizing him. He just sidestepped a nasty-looking curse and kept running, as the man who would someday be Minister for Magic wheeled about angrily. Kingsley tried several different ways to catch or trip them while visibly freaking out about the realization that Sirius was carrying a small child with him, but he did keep trying. On the other hand, the shock, to Harry's deep and eternal relief, actually delayed the reactions of the rest of the six other people in the hallway (none of whom he recognized) for just the few seconds that he needed to hit half of them with Stunning Jinxes. In that time, Sirius - still running full-out - hit the others with what looked to Harry like Concussion Hexes, and then they were on the second staircase with Kingsley in hot pursuit.
As Sirius scrambled up the steps, Harry twisted awkwardly in his grip, trying to lean over his shoulder. Sirius helpfully shifted his arm slightly, and Harry steadied himself on Sirius' shoulder and pointed his wand backwards at Kingsley. The young Auror was running after them bouncing hexes off of Sirius' shield charms and, to his credit, not interrupting his casting with swearing as so many people did when they were under stress. He also had shields working, but Harry knew a couple of shield breaker hexes that hadn't actually been invented until the 2000's, which was why he'd been able to take down Proudfoot and Savage as quickly as he had. As soon as he had a clear shot, he fired one off, and then hesitated to follow it up.
They were in the middle of a staircase; if Kingsley fell backwards, he might actually -
Harry barely blocked a Disarming Jinx, and would have slapped himself if he had the time. He was being stupid. Kingsley was a wizard. He could fall thirty feet vertically and maybe break his arm. Throwing him down the stairs would, at best, leave him some bruises tomorrow. Harry didn't want to kill anyone, especially not people just doing their jobs who didn't know Sirius wasn't a Death Eater, but he didn't mind slightly inconveniencing them. "Stupefy!" he yelled, and immediately hated his own high-pitched voice. Back to silent spells until further notice, he decided, wincing as Kingsley deflected the stunbolt barely inches away from the back of Sirius' knee.
They were at the top of the stairs. Harry, who had been stupid enough to wait for Kingsley to put his shields back up, broke them again and immediately Stunned him, just in time for Sirius to swear loudly and fling himself to the ground. A moment later it was obvious to Harry why, as a sizzling pepper grenade sailed just over his head, hit the wall behind them, and exploded extremely loudly. One of the things he had not been delighted to learn about the existence of when he joined the actual police force, pepper grenades were enchanted to explode on impact and were full of incendiary magical pepper dust that got into everything and burned like acid anywhere it touched you. They were extremely expensive and difficult to make, but their actual intended use was to incapacitate criminals who tried to break out of custody.
Your first instinct was to try to use aguamenti to get the awful stuff off you - it was hot and dry, after all - and Harry had to actually actively stop himself from doing that without thinking. He could feel it on his hands and his face and sliding down the back of his shirt and oh, wow, this was much more painful than he'd been expecting. Sirius was already struggling to keep hold of him, he'd gotten more of it than Harry had and he was burning all his attention trying to keep his shields up. But Harry knew the actual correct thing to do, because that was in the official briefing along with how to correctly use the grenades (you were supposed to try to hit people with them, preferably center of mass). You freeze them out. "Frigideiro," snapped Harry, breaking his own resolution from half a minute before, because he needed the extra force giving his voice to the spell would provide.
Sirius scrambled to his feet again immediately, to the sounds of shocked yells in all directions, and was off like a shot for the front gates. They almost made it, too; they got to five feet from the gates.
Harry heard an unfamiliar voice shout, "Crucio!", and the Unforgivable curse ripped right through Sirius' shielding charms and into his spine.
Sirius stumbled and fell.
Chapter 5: This Was Also Not A Good Idea
"WHAT FUCKING IDIOT JUST DID THAT?" shrieked Harry, as Sirius collapsed, making a horrible keening sound. Harry found that he was on his own feet again, suddenly, sparkling with aura light. Everything around him was dust and red pepper and flying spells. He didn't have any idea, really, how many people were here, but suddenly he wanted to fight all of them. He hated his voice, but whatever, he'd get over it, someone was torturing his godfather, he was going to actually kill someone, "I am going to murder you who the fuck - "
"No (aaaaah) don't," gasped Sirius, from the ground. He sounded strained, like it was taking a huge amount of concentration just to form words. Harry knew the feeling; the Cruciatus Curse was like having all of your nerves whited out, and all the same he was visibly struggling to put himself between Harry and the opposing Aurors. "Get - run, - "
Harry was staggered for a brief moment by the fact that Sirius Black would rather be Cruciated than let a child - a child he didn't know - get in trouble on his behalf. Maybe he thought it was likely that Harry was actually an adult in disguise and would get thrown into Azkaban, a fate perhaps worse than death. It wasn't like Harry was acting like a little kid. But still: Sirius had just demonstrated that he was willing to be Cruciated to protect a stranger. Harry ... honestly would not have expected that. He'd seen Sirius at fifteen think it was hilarious to dangle a classmate upside down by his ankle. At thirty-five the man had still not really seemed to regret it. For a baseline random child to whom he had no particular attachment, and plausible reasons to suspect might be a Death Eater (such as, good Light wizards do not use tactics like 'pretend to be a small child' and actual small children cannot cast Patronuses and all the Light wizards think Sirius Black is evil)? He loved Sirius dearly, but Harry would have expected, at best, professional teamwork. Maybe.
He was going to have to reevaluate his own judgment of his godfather.
When he wasn't being shot at.
Homenum revelio, he thought, spinning on his heels to get a view of his surroundings. Eight people, spread across the gate and entryway to easily target anyone running from door to gate. Probably not all of them Aurors, then. The entire Auror Corps was usually, at the high end, sixteen people; it was an elite subsection of British Magical Law Enforcement and Magical Britain was a small place. Harry had taken out three on his arrival and he knew Shacklebolt, at least, was another. The other six they'd taken down on their way out of the building might have been hitwizards, but Harry was willing to be at least one had been another young Auror, they almost never sent them out alone. And he hadn't seen Mad-Eye yet (thank Merlin), so the entire rest of the Auror Corps was probably at most nine, and that was assuming they'd managed to replace the Longbottoms in a timely manner, which wasn't honestly that likely. And at any given time usually at least a quarter of the Corps were asleep, since someone had to do the night shifts. So some of these people were not Aurors, just whatever hitwizards had been on hand in the MLE offices. If Harry had to guess he'd say it'd be the four holding shields on the gate. There were three guys spamming Stunning Jinxes which Harry's shields were so far protecting him from, and - no. Not a random hitwizard. Gawain Robards, a man that Harry had kicked off his force twenty years from now for assaulting Narcissa Malfoy. The kind of man who thought it was fair that Dark wizards be punished in pain and suffering for their crimes and he, not the legal system, was the one best suited to inflict that pain regardless of whether anyone had bothered to produce evidence of wrongdoing or have such pesky things as a trial -
I'm going to kill you, personally, in particular.
maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but you are going to die.
Harry leveled his wand at the idiot and hummed sonorus under his breath, so that he could project without his voice jumping registers into the stratosphere. "You," he said flatly, "have exactly five seconds to stop that, or I will personally see to it that the short remainder of your life is absolute, unmitigated hell."
One of the gate guards said, confused, "Is that Harry Potter?"
This turned out to be an adequate distraction, regardless of whether the threat would have sufficed. Robards yelped in surprise and the Cruciatus broke. Sirius breathed a deep, shaky sigh of relief, tried to get up, and failed. Harry smiled at the Aurors, who had all stopped shooting at him and were now just looking confused. He was feeling a vague sense that his favorite tactic of looking pleasantly calm and subtly threatening was going to come across more just creepy when he was a little kid. He'd gotten into that habit because everything else in the world was just so much less scary than Voldemort that ordinary criminals were mostly just sort of pathetic and pitiful, and then he'd found himself using his own calmness as an emotional weapon. But that only worked because he was Chief Auror Harry Potter the Man Who Defeated Voldemort (Twice). Right now he was facing the Aurors as the very small Boy-Who-Lived, about whom they knew nothing except that he had mysteriously maybe-defeated Voldemort at the age of approximately fifteen months, and then gone to live with Muggles. Oh, well. He was just going to have to be ridiculous at people until they started taking him seriously, probably. "I cannot confirm or deny that I am the Boy-Who-Lived," he said, shifting his stance slightly, defensively, and wondering how long it would take before they started shooting at him again. Ideally, long enough that Sirius - breathing unevenly and shivering - would be able to get up.
"That's totally Harry Potter," said one of the hitwizards, sounding shocked.
"No I'm not," said Harry, just to be ornery. Also, because he suspected that even though the Auror manual said 'never talk in the middle of a firefight, especially not to your enemies', his present opponents seemed to have entirely forgotten about that rule. Accordingly, he was going to distract them for as long as possible, and lecture them about it later.
"But he's got the scar and everything," said the first one, gesturing with her free hand at Harry's forehead.
"Are you sure you're not Harry Potter?" said someone.
Now that Sirius was no longer actively being tortured, Harry could relax slightly, though only slightly. It was enough, though, that he slipped without much thinking about it into his default mode. Which is to say, he stopped being a terrifying, unhealthily altruistic soldier, and resumed being a sarcastic little shit. "No, I'm Lucius Malfoy," he drawled, "couldn't you tell?"
"What?" said another one of his opponents, incredulously.
Another of the gate guards sighed. She said tiredly, "He's fucking with us."
"You win a cookie," said Harry, pointing at the witch who'd spoken and smirking. "'Course I'm fucking with you." At his feet, Sirius made a sound that might have been a badly stifled snicker. Good, he was recovering. This was totally working. "Being as annoying as possible is basically my whole shtick. What'd you think I defeated the Dark Lord with, my super powerful fifteen-month-old bare hands?" Yep, he was totally implying that he had defeated Voldemort using sarcasm. See how long it took them to figure that one out. Come to think of it, Tom was really bad at dealing with people not being terrified of him, that might actually be a valid strategy ...
"Hell is he doing with Black?" said the one who'd questioned his confidence in his own identity.
"Breaking him out," said Harry promptly. "Sorry, I thought that was obvious."
There was a pause during which the guards all exchanged nervous, confused looks. Some poor soul was elected by popular vote to ask the question they were all thinking - or, in other words, everyone glared at the newest guy until he caved. He asked: "Why?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Because I'm secretly Voldemort and I thought it would be a brilliant idea to leave all the clever Slytherins in jail and break out the one Gryffindor who isn't capable of subtlety even if you Imperiused him, clearly," he deadpanned. "Because he's innocent, you nitwits!" Okay, he hadn't actually been planning on doing that. His original plan, inasmuch as there had been a plan at all, had been to say nothing, run like hell, hunt down Wormtail, throw him at MLE, and trust Director Bones to do her job. After which, who knew. But whatever, if they got out of this alive it was going to be all over the news regardless of what he said. Might as well make sure someone actually knew the real reason he was here, before Rita Skeeter started plastering Dark Lord Harry Potter all over the evening Prophet. If he was really lucky, one or two of them might even believe him.
They all stared at him.
The other door guard, who hadn't spoken yet, was the first to recover. He said, in a surprisingly gentle voice, "Um, I realize you weren't there, but ... you do know that he murdered thirteen people in broad daylight, right?"
"So I hear," said Harry, shrugging. "I'm entirely sure it's not true. Unfortunately, at the moment I don't have convincing proof, which is why we are having this conversation here instead of, for instance, the MLE petitions courtroom." He glanced for just a moment down at Sirius, who had stopped shivering and was very slowly rearranging himself, without drawing anyone's attention, into a position where he could get up off the ground very quickly. Good. That meant these guys only needed to be distracted for a little bit longer. "So, Auror Roobards," Harry pronounced the name deliberately incorrectly, just to annoy him, "you have an Unforgivable license, I see?"
"Of course," said Robards stiffly, giving him an irritable look. "It would be irresponsible of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement not to have some elite members of its staff who fully understand the Dark magic that our enemies might choose to wield against us."
It sounded like a stock response; he'd probably had to say that to at least one reporter. He was old enough to have been on the force long enough to have been around when Barty Crouch (senior) was pushing for that law in the first place; maybe he'd spoken to the Wizengamot about it. Regardless, it would have been convincing, except ... well. Harry had been present for the very long recitation under Veritaserum of every case of unnecessarily brutal vigilante justice that Robards had ever carried out. Harry smirked at him. "Oh, is that why you eviscerated Rosier?"
This reply did not have precisely the intended effect. Harry had been hoping that Robards would get defensive and try to argue. An argument was an ideal way to keep everyone paying attention to Harry and not to Sirius. A slightly better case would be for some of the others to either get annoyed at their excessively-brutal supervisor or try to defend him, but it was fine if he didn't get that. Unfortunately, he didn't even get the main thing he was going for. Instead he had just provided them reason to believe he was, in fact, a disguised Death Eater. The event in question had taken place some years previously and was not, at this time, known to anyone outside the Office except for the Death Eaters who'd escaped from the same building.
It was immediately obvious to Harry that this had been a stupid thing to say, because he could see the expressions on everyone's faces change: oh, he's just trying to Slytherin us. They had all immediately concluded from his reference to this information that he shouldn't have that he must be a liar and a Death Eater.
Robards, teeth bared in a nasty snarl, pointed his wand at Harry's nose and hit him full in the face with a Cruciatus Curse.
"Wow, fuck you," said Harry.
There was a pause during which everyone stared at him, slightly incredulous, and Robards gave a confused frown to his wand, which was still producing the sickly grey light that indicated he had cast the curse successfully.
Harry added, proud of the way his voice wavered only slightly, "We're leaving."
Sirius took this as the cue it was, picked him up on his way to his feet, spoke three different unfamiliar charms very quickly, and took a running jump at the shielded ward lines. Harry's shields - not broken, only failing to block the Unforgivable Curse that had been leveled at him - ate a dozen different hexes, wavered, and broke. To everyone's shock, including Harry's, Sirius actually cleared seven feet, sailing over the line of guards and their shiny stacked shields, and then they were through the edge of the Anti-Apparition shell, and they had Disapparated before they hit the ground.
Chapter 6: Where The Hell Are We
They landed ... somewhere.
It was dark, reasonably temperate, and seemed to involve a large number of deciduous trees.
Sirius put down Harry very carefully, and then slid to the ground, inhaling deeply and gratefully. Harry, for his part, fell flat on his back, stared up at the starry sky, and said, "Ow."
"You," said Sirius, sounding puzzled and impressed, "just took a Cruciatus to the face and didn't even flinch."
"You jumped like ten feet vertically," pointed out Harry. People did not ordinarily have that ability. Horses did not generally have that ability, he was pretty sure. Large dogs certainly didn't, and in any case Sirius had done it in human form.
"Standard flight booster charms, they're not hard," said Sirius dismissively. To be fair, Harry thought, the man had built a flying motorcycle, hadn't he. "Ignoring Unforgivables, on the other hand, not so simple." He gave Harry a searching look.
"I'm used to it," said Harry with a shrug. This was a vast oversimplification of the actual explanation, but he didn't really feel up to the complete story at the moment. In short, he and Ron had had an extremely unpleasant experience to which they had responded by putting themselves through frankly excessive resistance training, under the theory that if you could train immunity to the Imperius, you could do the same with the Cruciatus. It would not be remembered as the most enjoyable several months of their lives, but it had worked. Sort of. It turned out you couldn't actually reject the curse itself without medical-grade anaesthesia charms, and even that didn't work very well. You could only train yourself to act normal under its influence. But that was all they needed, to prevent a repeat incident of being totally incapacitated in the middle of a rescue mission.
Which, Harry was pleased to note, had totally just paid off.
"So, you still don't remember me," he checked.
"I have no idea who you are," agreed Sirius. "My best guess is that you're Hex Vector."
Harry blinked bemusedly at the sky. "Who's that?"
Sirius sighed. "I'll take that as a no? Kid I went to school with. He and his twin sister Sept were the Ravenclaw prefects for our class year. Really observant, kind of sarcastic, hung around the Slytherins occasionally but not constantly, not fond of liars, decent duellist who could have gotten better while I wasn't looking. He's the only person I could think of who could plausibly have known about me being an Animagus and known the Death Eaters well enough to know how Willem Rosier died and who might care enough about proper dispensation of justice to want to break me out of Azkaban. Doesn't explain the Patronus, or why you seem to be Polyjuiced into a child that's, what, five? ... but it was the best I could come up with."
"Saying I'm Harry Potter doesn't help?" offered Harry hopefully.
Sirius gave him a blank look. "Nnnno? Should it?"
Damn it. "Um, because it implies that James and Lily Potter were my parents?" Please don't say who?, please don't say -
"You look extremely alarmed," observed Sirius, somewhat unhappily.
"You're missing more than I thought," explained Harry, sighing. "Okay, hold on, let's start from the beginning here. You're aware that Dementors feed on happy memories, right?"
Sirius nodded. "Yeah. I'm ... I guess I'm abstractly aware that I've forgotten things. For instance, I'm pretty sure that if my relationship with my little brother was quite as universally toxic as I remember, I would not have been nearly as nice to him when I was twelve or for that matter failed to murder him when I was eighteen. But obviously I mostly have no real sense of what I've forgotten, anywhere I don't have obvious markers."
It had been thirteen years of Azkaban, not four, the first time Harry met Sirius. With a vague sad feeling he realized that the Sirius he had known had probably eventually run out of directly pleasant memories and started losing meta-memories; that is, he'd started forgetting that he knew he'd forgotten things. And so in 1995 he had had nothing nice at all to say about his little brother, not even the cogent observation that he didn't have anything nice to say and probably should. Harry sighed. "Right. Okay. I think, in theory, that you'll probably get a lot of that back, over time, if you look for it." Sirius of 1995 had been able to tell stories about the Marauders, sometimes even complete ones if Remus helped. He'd been isolated and trapped and he'd still been recovering, slowly but surely. And this Sirius had not been under the influence of the Dementors for nearly as long. "But you do retain some information that isn't completely terrible? You remember Prongs?"
Sirius winced. "I mean ... mostly, I think? I recognized him, I can see that that's who your Patronus is. I realize that he and his wife are the people who died when Wormtail decided to turn on us, I'm aware that they were the most important people in my life. But if I try to remember who they were, I mostly get this recurring mental image of finding them dead, and otherwise I just get him sulking and her yelling and nobody ever smiling. I don't even," he swallowed, "I don't remember their names."
This hit Harry rather hard, and he had to take a second before he continued. But - that was information Sirius in 1993 had had. Given how difficult it would have been for him to consult a library, Harry was going to optimistically hope that this was because he'd recovered it on his own. Which boded ... at least sort of well. And in the meantime: "I have that memory too," said Harry, quietly. "It's the subject of nightmares. Their names were James and Lily Potter, and they were my parents. You are my godfather."
Sirius absorbed this, and then stared at him, half disbelieving and half utterly astonished.
"You can't actually be a little kid," objected Sirius. He was self-aware enough not to say I don't remember them having a baby, but he did have a point. Harry was just completely and obviously not acting like a five-year-old, and Sirius had been taking it as granted that he was somehow disguised.
"I am ... sort of actually a little kid?" said Harry. He debated with himself, for a long moment, whether to tell the truth. He probably wasn't going to tell everyone, or even more than a very few people. He was still not at all sure whether he should tell Dumbledore. Things would get strange and awful extremely quickly if it got out that he was from the future. Whereas if he just went about being ridiculuous at everyone and fixing problems without warning, he might actually be able to significantly improve the outcome of the Second Wizarding War. The best option was likely to be for him to stay the hell away from the wizarding world until he was eleven, and then just let people assume he was precocious. Still - Sirius deserved to know, he thought. And Sirius had never been as staunchly loyal to Dumbledore as Remus was, so he could probably be convinced to keep things quiet.
"What d'you mean?" asked Sirius after the pause had dragged on for a little while.
Harry sighed. "This is going to be a really long story, hang on."
A great many hours later ...
" ... and after all that and seeing what happened to Hogwarts while I was gone I kinda have even more of a complex about leaving people in trouble when I could theoretically help even if it would be stupid, which is why when I ended up here I decided to go straight to Azkaban and try to break you out, which was a terrible idea and I did not plan it very well at all, sorry about that."
"Hey, neither of us is dead or arrested, I think you did good," said Sirius, smiling faintly. He'd absorbed everything Harry had to say with a minimum of incredulity, although he admitted freely that he would have been considerably more suspicious if not for the whole Harry's Patronus is Prongs thing, and the fact that Harry could correctly describe the location of the cottage in Godric's Hollow, among other things. He'd listened with fascination to Harry's entire life story, frowning and smiling in all the right places. The story of what had really happened to Regulus had utterly silenced him for several long minutes, and the story of the Battle of Hogwarts had made him actually applaud, particularly when Harry described Neville's heroic speech and successful summoning of the Sword of Gryffindor.
Then Harry had told him about what happened in the Forbidden Forest.
And Sirius had stared at him with an absolutely unfathomable look on his face.
Then, suddenly, like a dam breaking, his expression exploded into a smile wider and brighter than any Harry had ever seen his godfather produce, including in the photographs of his parents' wedding. He looked like he'd just solved every problem that had ever existed in one enormous epiphany.
"Um ... what?" said Harry uncertainly.
"Death isn't real," said Sirius, still grinning hugely.
What. What? What the - "What?"
"You talked to James and Lily," explained Sirius gleefully. "They weren't just figments of your imagination, you got information from spirit-Dumbledore that you didn't have before you talked to him! That means they're still alive, they still exist! They're just - not here, I guess - but they're not gone. Death isn't real."
Now it was Harry's turn to stare at Sirius, somewhat thunderstruck.
Sirius suddenly started talking very rapidly, excitedly, gesturing expansively. "That doesn't mean we should just let people die, of course, dying is painful and sucks and separates you from people you love," he said first, correctly guessing Harry's immediate concern. "I'm not going to commit suicide or anything, there's you and there's things to be done! We can fix most of the stuff you told me about, probably, a lot of the shitty things that happened to you were bad coincidences or things you just weren't ready for. I mean, you had absolutely no reason to expect most of them, of course, that's not your fault, but now you know! And we've got years of lead time, we can get all sorts of things done in six years, we could hunt down all the Horcruxes ahead of time, we could systematically take out all the Death Eaters, we could grab your favorite friends and teach them to duel - "
He babbled on like this for some time, talking about guerrilla strategy and hiding from wizarding view, and how to teach duelling - apparently he'd taught Matt Savage to duel when they were both in school, which Harry hadn't known. He had enthusiastic opinions about how the house in Godric's Hollow could be repaired if they could make it sufficiently safe, or what to do with a new house if they went elsewhere. Most of those appeared to be based on having fairly nuanced recollection of Lily's aesthetic preferences; since 'learning Lily's aesthetics' consisted mostly of being yelled at (he admitted with a sheepish grin), this was a flavor of memories that he had retained better than most. He had ideas about specific and appropriate ways to annoy and/or assassinate various former Death Eaters and their allies, amusing pranks to pull on annoying-but-not-actually-evil members of the Ministry of Magic. He went on for awhile trying to determine how best to approach Moony, and also the Tonkses, who were his only non-terrible relatives with the occasional exception of Narcissa Malfoy.
Harry mostly listened, and watched with fascination. The Sirius he had known had been broken, had been shattered by the deaths of the Potters. He had never recovered, he probably never would have recovered completely from the loss of the people around whom his life revolved. Even in his brighter moments, he had so clearly been trying desperately to chase away the unignorable, crushing weight of despair. Even seemingly cheery, he had always been faintly insincere, trying to pretend not to be the broken shell of his former self that everyone knew he was. But this Sirius had just learned that the people for whom he grieved were safely ensconced in the afterlife, that once he was done here he would get to see them again.
This - this was Sirius happy.
Once he'd started winding down, Harry said, "So, where the hell are we, anyway?"
Sirius blinked and gave him a puzzled look. "You brought us here."
"What? No I didn't. I was aiming for the Forest of Dean," objected Harry. That was decidedly not where they were.
"Um ... I was aiming for Godric's Hollow," said Sirius. This was also decidedly not where they were.
They stared at each other for a moment, shaken.
"We are absurdly lucky," observed Harry somewhat distantly. Those two things were not near one another. Given that neither one of them had apparently managed to have a strong enough pull to actually get where they were planning to go, they should have been splinched halfway. By all rights the two of them should have ended up scattered across five counties in bloody bits, and thereby lost any chance they might have had at positively influencing the direction of the next twenty years of wizarding Britain's history. Instead, they were merely lost; and lost was barely even an inconvenience when you could Apparate.
They decided after some deliberation, and the rest of Harry's story (what happened with Snape, the rebuilding period, Auror training, getting married) that they would not tell anyone else about Harry being mysteriously from the future. For information safety reasons this meant they probably needed not to visibly interact with the magical world until Harry turned eleven and went to Hogwarts, even if they managed improbably to convince the world that Sirius was not a mass murderer and Harry had not been kidnapped. Getting hold of Wormtail and murdering him with great prejudice and/or throwing him at MLE covered in Anti-Animagus Jinxes was high on their priority list, but slightly higher was making sure that they didn't get arrested quicker than that.
For the very immediate present, Sirius Conjured a mirror and they spent a probably-absurd amount of time Transfiguring each other such that they were unrecognizable as themselves but also not disfigured or strange-looking in a way that would draw attention. Sirius Disillusioned Harry, and then Harry hopped very briefly to the Dursleys' house and, ignoring the total freak-out that was still taking place, stole all the available money and jewelry in the house. Vernon made plenty of money, and they deserved the slight inconvenience, Harry reasoned, although he honestly still felt a bit guilty about it. He'd probably pay them back, secretly, once he had access to his Gringotts account or some other source of funds.
Sirius took the jewelry, vanished for half an hour, and returned with the equivalent in Muggle money.
Harry, who had been expecting this to take longer and was in the midst of trying to figure out how to break into Dumbledore's office for his vault key and the Invisibility Cloak, startled when his godfather reappeared. "That was fast," he said. "Should I be concerned that you are unusually good at fencing stolen jewelry?"
This provoked a slightly embarrassed smirk. "I vaaaaguely recall being lectured for my tendency to break into Death Eaters' houses and steal things from them," said Sirius, shrugging a little helplessly. "I don't think Lily actually minded, she just felt sort of obligated to be the voice of reason? But being yelled at was still not super pleasant, so." Sirius looked down at the stack of Muggle bills he'd just handed Harry. "I don't know why I know how to do that for Muggle money instead of for wizarding money. But it feels loosely correlated in my head with Prongs, so maybe he really liked Muggle music or something." Sirius had started referring to James in the present tense, briefly, before Harry had pointed out that this would be extremely conspicuous in conversation and cause people to think he might be crazy. So he'd stopped again, but he was still basically acting as if James and Lily - and for that matter Regulus, the Prewett twins, Marlene McKinnon, etc - were, rather than being dead, merely some inconvenient distance away. He was a bit frustrated with the giant gaping holes in his memory, but as Harry had theorized that it probably wasn't permanent, this didn't seem to be denting his enthusiasm much. "Anyway, apparently I have this skill and I will probably eventually figure out why!" he said brightly.
"I see," said Harry, bemused. He was still adjusting to Sirius being so ... well ... not serious. "So we have lots of Muggle money and no wizarding money. This suggests an obvious starting plan of pretending to be Muggles and avoiding the wizarding world that way?" Pause. "Oooh, I am deeply tempted to locate Hermione and try to buy a house in friendly-neighbor distance." Then he could go be friendly on the pretext of introducing himself to the new neighbors, try to seem precocious-but-not-too-adult, and make friends with Hermione on the basis that she was brighter than anyone else of their age. He didn't especially want to attend primary school, but they could say he was homeschooled, he'd be able to demonstrate basic competence in anything that the mundane social services might plausibly expect a primary schooler to be able to do. And then in six years when Hermione got her Hogwarts letter she would be pleasantly surprised to find that her friend down the street was also magical and would be going to Hogwarts as well.
"I don't think this is enough money to buy a house," said Sirius. It was a lot of money, but not that much money.
"We could just go on stealing things, I guess," said Harry. He wasn't extremely sanguine about the idea, being as he was technically a police officer, and he had taken a 'protect and serve' oath at some point, but so long as they confined their crime to people who genuinely deserved it he supposed he'd probably live. He'd much rather just find a way to get into his vault; or Sirius', for that matter. "But it'll look suspicious to Muggles, and so will mysteriously having money even if we're getting it from our own vaults instead of someone else's and can't explain why. Is there any non-magical job that you could plausibly pretend to have the relevant credentials for?"
Sirius considered that question thoughtfully. "Uuuuhm," he said after a moment, "are we talking about pretending well enough to actually convince someone to hire me, or pretending well enough to give a convincing answer when the neighbors ask 'so what do you do for a living'?"
"Second thing," answered Harry, "there's going to be way better things for you to be doing than working a Muggle job, none of which will require you to retrain your draw twitch." The phrase 'draw twitch' occurred intermittently in the Auror Office, and described the tendency of anyone who spent too much time in combat to respond to sudden noises by pointing wands at them, even if doing so required drawing the wand from a sleeve or pocket in the process. He knew perfectly well Sirius, far too little removed from warfare, would experience this precise problem, and that would be conspicuous if he spent large contiguous periods of time interacting with Muggles. He wouldn't look dangerous, pointing sticks at people if they startled him, but he would look like he was crazy.
Nodding, Sirius said, "The obvious failure point of almost anything I pick is that it will probably be obvious I'm lying if I happen to run into someone who actually does do whatever I'm claiming, though. I mean, it'll be all 'oh where do you work?' and 'do you have an opinion on this complex internal issue that no one outside our field knows about?' and I'm not that good at making things up."
This was a good point. "Well, don't say you're a dentist, that's what Hermione's parents do," sighed Harry. "We'll table that one for a minute here. How much do you know about building defensive wards? We're going to have to start from scratch if we buy a totally nonmagical house ... "
They were still discussing this when they eventually realized they needed food and somewhere to sleep. So they altered their Transfiguration-based disguises slightly such that they looked convincingly related, and picked a random city by drawing a crude sketch of the Isles in the dirt and throwing rocks at it. Then Sirius - with a fake Conjured ID that named him Evan Michaelson - rented a perfectly ordinary non-magical hotel room, and they ordered room service and resumed their plotting with barely a hitch.
Harry was starting to feel like this might actually not be a total disaster.
Chapter 7: Why Did We Think This Would Work
The day Harry had left the Dursleys and broken Sirius out of Azkaban turned out, upon investigation, to have been June 22nd of 1986, which was, interestingly, exactly twenty years earlier than the day Harry remembered it being when he'd fallen asleep an adult. Muggle newspapers were showing pictures of both of them, respectively as The Very Dangerous And Probably Armed Escaped Criminal and The Kid He Kidnapped. The articles didn't mention Harry by name and were very vague about where Sirius might have escaped from, but this did mean that the Ministry thought Sirius' escape warranted warning the Muggle government about him. It also meant that the Ministry, and possibly also Dumbledore, had concluded that Sirius had indeed kidnapped Harry. That was ... not good ... but also not surprising. They didn't plan to devote much worry to it.
Five days (and a substantial dent in their finite stolen funds) later, Harry and Sirius had the following plan outlined and agreed upon:
(1) Design disguises that they could live with semipermanently, which would make them look (a) unrecognizable and (b) obviously related.
(2) Visit the Rue des Merveilles - the Parisian counterpart to Diagon Alley - to change money to Galleons and buy an owl.
(3) Buy new wands from Gregorovitch, who was considerably less likely to report them to the DMLE than Ollivander.
(4) Mail-order money from Sirius' Gringotts account (not Harry's - Dumbledore might notice) in mostly, but not entirely, Muggle denominations.
(5) Set up a Muggle bank account.
(6) Buy a house as conveniently near the Grangers as possible and befriend Hermione's family. Claim Harry is Sirius' (homeschooled) son, invent dead wife to occasionally be obviously sad about.
(7) Design and implement a sufficiently powerful defense schema to keep out hostile wizards.
(8) Break into Hogwarts via Honeydukes and steal Harry's vault key and invisibility cloak from Dumbledore.
(9) Start hunting Horcruxes.
It seemed like a good plan. They agreed that it was a good plan. They were confident in their ability to carry out all of the steps up to (8), which was going to be quite difficult. (7) would be time-consuming and exhausting, but Sirius had a rather large body of experience with it for his age; he'd gone to a rather large amount of effort, when he was seventeen, to adequately protect the flat he was living in from abrupt and violent assault by his relatives. So they figured that would be fine, and all the steps before that would be even easier.
Harry should probably not have been surprised that they ran into complications no later than step (2).
They spent a little bit of time wandering around on the magical marble that paved Paris' glittery center of magical commerce, in their search for a store that might conceivably sell them a post owl. Harry wanted Hedwig, but of course Hedwig had probably not yet been born, and in any case it wouldn't be a particularly good idea to go to Diagon Alley even in non-Polyjuice disguise. (The Transfiguration-based disguise was equally difficult to detect, less temporary, and easier to dispel quickly. This was balanced by its being much more difficult and time-consuming to create, but they considered this an acceptable trade-off.) It had not been long enough since Sirius' escape and Harry's disappearance; people would be on the lookout for anything suspicious. Their hunt, however, was interrupted by the sound of an extremely high-pitched shriek, several startled exclamations, and a tiny platinum-blonde figure dashing very quickly through the crowd, directly at Harry.
Harry only very narrowly didn't draw a wand on her. He did take several very rapid steps back, eyes wide.
"Hé là!" she said very brightly, skidding to a startlingly graceful stop roughly where he had just been standing. Sirius gave her a dubious, suspicious look. She was perhaps nine or ten, wore a cheery yellow sundress, and had her long silvery-blonde hair in an elegant braid that Harry was almost certain would have required a professional hairdresser to successfully create. She did not look exactly like Gabrielle Delacour had looked the first time Harry met her, because Gabrielle had been dressed for winter, wearing her hair down, and drenched, but -
" ... bonjour?" said Harry, confused and wrong-footed.
"You smell like birds," said the girl that Harry was almost entirely sure was Fleur, in French which was thankfully clear enough for him to understand. Hermione had a general policy of not acting as translator unless it was important, so he'd sort of been forced to learn the language from interaction with his counterparts in the French National Security office.
Harry stared at her. "I ... smell like birds?" he repeated, confused.
Apolline Delacour caught up to her daughter, managing to simultaneously look exhausted, frustrated, and completely radiant. Such were the magical powers of half-Veela, Harry supposed absently. "I am terribly sorry - " she began, giving Fleur a chastising look.
"Maman! You said there was no such thing as boy Veela!"
Sirius failed, badly, to suppress a snicker. Apolline turned a fascinating shade of pink, which distracted Sirius slightly; after a second he shook his head violently and deliberately looked away, which made Apolline shoot him a look of deep gratitude. "Fleur, dearest," she began patiently, "there are no ... such ... you do smell like birds," she said thoughtfully, turning her gaze on Harry.
"Um," said Harry. Okay, this was new. He knew that Veela were, as a species, related to birds, in a vaguely similar way to how centaurs were related to horses or merfolk were related to fish and/or alligators. Birds, he knew, had a relatively sharp sense of smell compared to humans, although nothing compared to dogs. Fleur had never in the future commented on his smell, but come to think of it, when he and Ron had gleefully shown up for family dinner night just after their successful Animagus transformation and challenged everyone to bet on what they were, the quarter-Veela witch had been the one who correctly guessed that they were both birds of prey. So ... Veela could identify avian Animagi by scent? Although maybe - hopefully - not other kinds; neither had commented on Sirius yet. This wasn't totally shocking, given that Crookshanks had demonstrated a similar ability and it was probably not unique.
Not, it seemed, clearly enough to know precisely what they were detecting, however, which might be the only thing that was going to save Harry here. Fleur had jumped to the conclusion that he was of Veela descent, which suggested that this ability was not precise enough to be able to tell the difference between 'sometimes a bird due to deliberate magic' and 'sometimes a bird due to ancestry.' Harry glanced at Sirius, puzzled. Should he claim to be of Veela descent? It wouldn't be totally out of the question; the disguises they'd settled on, in addition to being unrecognizable as similar to either of their natural states, had relatively tan skin for Veela, and deliberately average brown eyes ... but they did have blond hair. Plus, it wasn't like Harry could safely explain the phenomenon by demonstrating that he was a falcon Animagus. Not only was it wildly illegal, since he was underage as well as unregistered, doing so would strip his Transfiguration and return him to his darker, green-eyed, conspicuously-forehead-scarred natural form, which had been all over the newspapers recently.
And then they would be in all of the trouble.
"Um ... is that weird?" said Harry, aiming for innocent ignorance.
Fleur looked like she wanted desperately to babble excitedly but was concerned that this would cause her mother to lose interest in the fascinating problem in favor of shushing her. "Frankly, yes," said Apolline, giving Harry - and Sirius - a searching look. "May I buy you coffee? I believe my daughter will sulk for the next year and a half if I don't interrogate you about your ancestry. I don't want to pry, of course, but - "
Harry's desire to be sensible and cautious and run far, far away from the curious Veela with their too-sharp noses clashed immediately and violently with his desire to befriend the girl who would be both his friend and his sister-in-law. If they only visited occasionally, wrote friendly letters, and didn't do anything suspicious, surely everything would be fine. There was no plausible motive for an evil Sirius Black to randomly decide to let a kidnapped Harry Potter befriend the daughter of Monsieur Franz Delacour, who was currently the director of emergency services at the French magical hospital, and would only much later become French Minister for Magic. Surely no one would be suspicious ... (this was just a rationalization, Harry suspected, but, well, his entire life consisted almost entirely of things going much worse than expected and at this point trying to avoid it seemed fruitless). He summoned his limited acting skills and said, as high-pitched and childish as he could manage, "Dad, dad, can we please?"
Sirius gave him a somewhat startled look. "Uh ... yeah, okay, sure," he said.
Thus it was that they found themselves sitting with nine-year-old Fleur Delacour and her mother in a cute little Parisian café, with coffee for the adults and hot chocolate for the kids. And shortly after ordering drinks they were surrounded by the gentle whooshing of a private conversation charm Apolline had produced by rearranging her hairdo (on closer inspection, the two elaborately carved wooden sticks holding her bun together were, in fact, wands). Which, Harry had to admit, was not by far the worst weird thing that could have happened, but ... it was still pretty weird. "So," said Sirius, who looked actually more confused, possibly because he'd never actually met Fleur and had no idea why Harry was going along with this, "may I ask who I am speaking to?"
This was the point at which it occurred to Harry that the two part-Veela had not actually introduced themselves, and he frantically went back over the brief conversation in the street in his head, afraid that he might have accidentally addressed either or both by name. Thankfully he hadn't, since the brief walk to the suggested café had consisted mostly of confused silence, Sirius and Apolline exchanging vaguely suspicious looks, and Fleur skipping in circles making a sound which strongly resembled a very excited teakettle.
Fleur's mother smiled apologetically. "Apolline Delacour," she introduced herself, holding out a hand. "This is my daughter, Fleur. My husband Franz is home with our baby, Gabrielle." Gabrielle was, in Harry's memory, a bright young witch just out of school, with a werewolf girlfriend, a fondness for impassioned speeches, and a rapidly developing civil rights movement. She had, apparently, just been born. That was ... weird was probably the best word for it, even if it felt sort of inadequate. Not quite on par with the extremely strange sensation of realizing that he had babysat this nine-year-old girl's future daughter, but still. "The reason we are having this conversation is that my mother was a Veela. We smell distinctively of our avian ancestry, and so does your - son?"
"Michael Murphy," Sirius introduced himself in return without hesitation, shaking politely. They'd decided that using names totally different from their own, and thereby unlikely to arouse suspicion, was worth the slight inconvenience of having to keep track of them. Names that started with similar vocal sounds would help avoid slips (if you accidentally started to say 'Harry' and he was supposed to be 'Henry', that was less conspicuous) and names they had some claim to (e.g. Evans) and permutations thereof (Gray or Green instead of Black, Porter instead of Potter, etc) would be considerably easier to remember, identify with, and crucially, respond normally to. But these things were all, together, not enough compared to avoiding suspicion as effectively as possible. "This is Adrian, he is my son, yes. We lost his mother several years ago to dragon pox." The fictional dead woman, whose name was Evelyn, would be said to have died of thyroid cancer when the story was told to Muggles, but wizards didn't actually get cancer.
"Oh, I'm so sorry for your loss," said Apolline sympathetically. This information seemed, unsurprisingly, to make her considerably more reluctant to ask the obvious next question, but given Fleur's bouncing excitement she sighed, and said, "I don't suppose you know whether she had Veela ancestry?"
Claiming to have gotten it from Sirius would be unconvincing, since Sirius apparently did not have the distinctive scent. "I bet she did," said Harry brightly, "she was really pretty."
"We're all really pretty!" said Fleur gleefully. "That's how you can tell!"
Harry had to try to forcibly ignore his sense that the younger version of Fleur was implausibly enthusiastic. She'd been much quieter and more restrained as an adult, but that didn't necessarily mean she'd experienced some sort of personality-altering trauma, it just meant she'd grown up a bit. He told himself pointedly that adult Fleur wasn't very good at keeping her opinions to herself and that a difference in tone delivery did not actually represent a huge personality shift. It was only sort of working; part of his brain was distracted from the conversation at hand by trying to figure out what might have happened to damp Fleur's cheery demeanor so dramatically, and whether he could prevent it from happening to her. He was going to do the same thing for Ginny, if he could manage it, since just because he was madly in love with the Ginny who'd been horribly traumatized didn't mean she deserved it. By the same token, just because he liked the quieter, more mature version of Fleur better didn't mean she deserved to have some unspecified awful thing happen to her.
He really hoped he was just being paranoid. He was kind of prone to that.
Sirius, thankfully, took Harry's interjection as the cue it was, and said, "Yes, I believe so. She didn't like to talk about it, and so I did not pry. I had the impression the gene only passed to female children?" he glanced curiously at Harry - the question what are you plotting clear in his false brown eyes - and then added, "So it'd never really occurred to me that it might be something that I needed to be concerned about."
"I see," said Apolline. "Fleur, I apologize, it seems I have told you incorrectly." She frowned curiously at Harry. "You don't look especially Veela," she said, "you look like your father."
"Mum was blonde too," said Harry. "Blonder than me, though."
"Like us!" said Fleur. "We're probably cousins!" She looked terribly pleased about the idea. Fleur, Harry gathered, had always had trouble making friends due to the supernatural influence of her genetics, which was why she was so close to her sister. He'd once asked her what it was like to put a bunch of Veela in a room, at family gatherings or whatever, and she'd explained that she didn't really know. Veela marrying humans and marrying into wizarding society was rare, and the rest generally declined to associate with the ones that chose to do so. Her mother had had no siblings, so she had only her grandmother, her mother, her sister, and then her father's human family. So Harry could see why Fleur would be excited to have found more.
"Ah," said Apolline, "probably not, dear, they aren't even - you're not French, are you, monsieur Murphy?"
"Our accents give us away, I'm sure," sighed Sirius theatrically. He also had fluent French, and as his childhood lessons in French (and Latin) were punctuated at frequent intervals by his mother yelling, he'd retained almost all of them, so he wasn't having trouble carrying the conversation, but of course he and Harry both had noticeable British accents. "No, we're not, we're English. I suppose we would have to be related at some arbitrary distance, though," he added, amused. "Everyone is related if you go far back enough."
Fleur looked utterly delighted by this, which made Apolline smile. "I suppose that's true," she admitted.
By the time they'd finished their coffee and hot chocolate, Fleur had extracted a promise that "Adrian" write to her using his soon-to-be-acquired post owl, and that they maybe visit sometime, because Family! Kind of!, and Sirius had managed to demonstrate such an impressive resistance to Apolline's undampable Veela aura that she actually commented on it. As much as this did for the verisimilitude of their accidentally modified cover story, since Sirius was able to brush it off cheerfully by pointing out that he'd totally been married to a part-Veela and so was used to the aura, Harry suspected that the actual reason was something really depressing. Depressing and related to the Potters' deaths, to be specific. He decided it was probably best not to ask, though, even after they had bid the Delacours good day and headed off to continue their interrupted quest. Harry did not especially want to be treated to an extended soliloquy on Lily's totally unrivaled intensity of emotion; as amusing as it was to listen to Sirius wax poetic, Harry generally preferred not to think too hard about the precise nature of his godfather's emotional investment in his parents.
They walked in silence, mostly; it would have been too easy to say something suspicious.
Sirius hummed to himself; Harry ended up burning most of the time indulging in a daydream about setting up Ron and Hermione fast enough to avert the Yule Ball disaster. Unlikely, but a pleasant thought.
Chapter 8: Why Do We Even Bother Making Plans
Eventually Sirius said, "So, that happened?"
And Harry said, "Wow, it did," and broke down in helpless giggles. It wasn't likely to come up terribly often, since there would be no point claiming Veela ancestry unless someone actually asked and he needed to use the excuse. But still: Fleur Delacour was now totally convinced that an imaginary person called Adrian Murphy was her distant relative on her mother's side. That was a totally ridiculous achievement and Harry was going to need to take a second to be proud of himself for it. The trick now, though, was just going to be making friends well enough that when she came to Hogwarts eight years from now, he'd be able to admit that he was actually Harry Potter - because she'd be able to tell by scent - and have her not immediately turn him into the DMLE for being an illegal Animagus.
Fleur was a decent person. Harry was optimistic.
They didn't have any trouble changing money, although the exchange rate was sort of depressing, since Gringotts Paris was just as large and easy to find as the London branch. An owlery was slightly harder to locate, since neither of them had actually been here before. Eventually they did find it, however, and wandered around for a long time, fascinated. Just as there were magical rats who could turn into top hats to which Ron had been unfavorably comparing Scabbers (which, in retrospect, was very funny, when Harry imagined how Wormtail felt about it), there also existed a great many species of magical owl. Britain was better known for its broomsticks and its clever potioneers, which was why most of the magical beasts Harry had seen in passing had been imported. Magical France, however, had several native species of magical owl, and La volière Chanteciel was full of them, carefully labeled and with helpful pamplets on their best care.
On consideration, he suspected that Hedwig - so clever - was a Swedish Hooting Owl, so named because they were most easily told apart from the Muggle sort of snowy owl by their distinctive hoot. They were supposed to be especially loyal, prone to be prideful and very good at guessing what you wanted. The shopkeeper saw Harry staring at his collection of them and gave him the whole spiel, but Harry (wincing) said he really didn't need to buy an owl right now, thanks. Sirius, to Harry's eternal gratitude, noticed his discomfort and said something cheery to the effect that he'd buy his son an owl for his eleventh birthday but right now he wanted something more like that, and pulled the man away to tell him about Ethiopian Poison Shrikes.
They spent nearly an hour wandering around the store making vaguely dissatisfied faces at each other and trying to make a decision, and then they were introduced to a dark red owl approximately the size of an eagle.
A large eagle.
It noticed them looking, rearranged itself carefully on its perch, spread its wings, and burst dramatically into flame. Several different colors of flame, red and blue and purple, danced along its flight feathers and reflected in its eyes, and when it flapped, they threw incandescent color in all directions. Which completely explained why this particular bird was on its own perch separate from the others, and contained in an entirely metal cage devoid of flammable objects. That was horribly dangerous and no one should ever be allowed to own it, Harry thought. It was horribly unsafe and someone would get set on fire. And also it was way too expensive, it was nearly as much as a brand-new broomstick. It wasn't like they couldn't afford ridiculous things like this but it was, in fact, totally ridiculous, and completely unnecessary, and conspicuous, and dangerous, and -
"I want it," he said.
"Me too," said Sirius, who appeared to have followed a roughly similar train of thought. "Can we name it Lily?"
"We are not naming it Lily," said Harry immediately, definitively. He liked that idea, but they were trying to be responsible about secrecy, here.
"Damn," said Sirius, not sounding terribly surprised. "What about Miner - wait, hang on, is it a girl owl?"
It said something about the kind of people that either of them spent any time with, thought Harry with a jolt of amused realization, that he and Sirius had both looked at terrifying amounts of fire and automatically assigned it a female gender. They hadn't actually asked, and the creature wasn't labeled. Harry kind of hoped the answer was yes; naming an owl Minerva did not imply anything about them except that they either really liked old Roman myths, or they had been Gryffindors in school, so that would actually be okay.
"It, um, it is not," said the shopkeeper, looking slightly unnerved.
"Damn," said Sirius again. "How about Rex?"
Harry considered that thoughtfully. Just barely a reference to Regulus, being a permutation on the name, but plausibly just a descriptor of the owl's kingly bearing. Sirius said he'd stopped actually calling his brother that when he was twelve, so the odds that anyone would even recognize it as a nickname for the entirely deceased Regulus Black were relatively low. It did seem worth doing, offering some small token of appreciation for all the unrecognized good that Regulus had done. And it was actually a pretty good name for an owl. "Yeah, okay," he said.
"So ... you would like the Ignatius Owl," said the shopkeeper, in a fairly transparent attempt to refocus their attention on him.
"No, we just thought we'd name it for fun," said Harry dryly, as Sirius snickered and started counting out Galleons.
They decided to do step (4) before step (3), and took a pause in a different cute café (there were, apparently, a number of them), for Sirius to write out a mail-order to Gringotts London, with enclosed blood sample. He explained that his family had not actually used vault keys, because they were paranoid and vault keys could theoretically be stolen. "I'm pretty sure I had a tantrum about Evil Blood Magic when I was, like, twelve, about this," Sirius said cheerfully. "But on reflection I think it was one of the more sensible things my father ever did. Probably because it wasn't his idea," he added, pausing for thought. Then he offered, "I think it was my grandfather's idea? My dad's dad. He was actually sort of reasonable sometimes." Harry, who had always sort of vaguely assumed that Sirius must have somehow stolen or otherwise recovered his own vault key sometime during 1993, felt as though he now much better understood how his godfather had managed to buy him a Firebolt via Kneazle-order.
Once Rex (looking smug and slightly incandescent) had winged off in the general direction of the Channel, they wandered back out onto the marble streets to locate the Portkey hub which would, for a fee, send you to most other centers of magical commerce. London, Shanghai, Sydney, Chicago, St. Petersburg, Cairo, etc. It would, in theory, take them to Munich and thence to the home of Ivan Gregorovitch, wandmaker.
That part went fine.
Less fine: Walking through the door to Gregorovitch's dusty wand shop (were all wand shops permanently dusty?) and finding themselves abruptly divested of their carefully designed Transfigured disguises. The little boy currently trying out a wand gasped audibly, and said a flood of excited, high-pitched Polish words to his mother. The only recognizable words involved were, naturally, Harry Potter!.
Of course he was internationally famous. He'd been dramatically kidnapped by a famous mass murderer after already being famously the defeater of the worst Dark Lord since Gellert Grindelwald. And ... "Of fucking course you've got Thief's Downfall," grumbled Harry, glaring at the wandmaker, who was snickering audibly. "I cannot imagine why I thought you of all people wouldn't." This was the man who had owned the Elder Wand until it had been stolen. Of course he had paranoid security on par with the goblins themselves. He had had more than half a century to design adequately paranoid systems, to the point that he apparently didn't even need to actually douse them with magical water. They only had to walk in the door.
The woman said something to her son that sounded like a caution or a warning, and then turned to run out the door, pulling him by the hand.
Sirius Stunned them.
"Thank you, Sirius," said Harry, rubbing his temples. "I'm sure that wasn't illegal or anything."
"Highly illegal," said Gregorovitch, smirking. With a wave of his hand, the doors shut and locked, and the windows turned an opaque shade of blue. His German accent was barely detectable. "But why should he care? There is nothing worse they can do than put him back in Azkaban."
"Well, they could kill me," offered Harry.
"Nah," said Sirius. "They couldn't."
Perhaps wisely, the wandmaker chose not to question this assertion. He simply ignored it and moved on to the relevant part of the conversation. "Unless you have a grudge against that little Polish boy, I assume you are here to purchase a wand, Mr. Black?"
"Two wands," said Sirius, nodding at Harry.
"That is also illegal," observed Gregorovitch, amused. "But no more illegal than selling to a wanted criminal, after all. I will sell you two wands, Mr. Black, if you modify the memories of my customers who saw you here." He nodded at the unconscious people on the ground. "At a slight increase on the standard price, of course, for the trouble."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Of course."
This occupied them for a number of minutes, despite their attempts to be efficient.
Sirius was trying to decide between several flavors of oak and Harry had just picked up a wand he thought he rather liked, when four Aurors in combat reds materialized with a rattling krakakooom, the sound characteristic of extremely long-distance Apparition. They were all in contact with one another, because you couldn't do that under your own power - you had to combine effort, and even then, everyone involved had to be good. Which also meant that Matt Savage, who was probably the most dangerous person currently employed by the Auror Office, and who was probably not holding onto thin air but rather John Proudfoot, was not the only problem they had to face. There weren't a lot of people who could put out that much power, and Harry recognized one: the man who was, or would soon be, Chief Auror. Rufus Scrimgeour had replaced Amelia Bones when she was promoted to DMLE Director, but Harry wasn't sure whether he was Chief Auror yet; it was possible that hadn't happened yet, he hadn't actually been paying attention. And the fourth person, a slim Indian witch with sharp blood-red eyes and spiky dark hair, could only be Scrimgeour's field partner Devi Redwood, who Harry had never met because she'd died before he ever met Scrimgeour.
Aurors only ever had one assigned combat partner, Harry had learned. You didn't often see them not in pairs because they usually died together, but even when they didn't, it was department policy not to try to replace them for people. That just got newbies killed by senior Aurors forgetting they didn't know what they were doing, or for that matter killed by senior Aurors who were angry at them for not being precise replacements of the people they'd lost, to whom they were usually as close as brothers and sisters. Someone had explained this to Harry by asking him to try to imagine replacing Ron with, oh, say, Dennis Creevey. Finding out that Rufus Scrimgeour had lost his Ron-equivalent barely a year into his Auror career had given Harry a lot of much-needed perspective on how the man had ended up who he was.
It did not, however, give him a great deal of sympathy, at this precise moment, for the person who was responsible for pushing his day even further off the rails.
"Protego maximus," snapped Harry, spinning the rowan-and-phoenix-feather wand currently in his hand through the motions of the great-shield with barely a flicker of hesitation. It behaved admirably, and he decided absently that he was going to buy it. This wasn't a perfect replacement for his beloved holly wand, but he was going to have to steal that one if he wanted it before he was eleven, and he was afraid that might upset it. And this was better than Proudfoot's wand, which was still hidden up his sleeve. At any rate - "For fuck's sake," he said, glaring at the Aurors who were now giving him confused, slightly alarmed looks. Proudfoot's Disillusionment, powerful though it was, was already bleeding away under the influence of Gregorovitch's security charms, which revealed that he was tapping curiously on the blue dome that Harry had just summoned into existence, covering himself, Sirius, and Gregorovitch (who looked mildly surprised). It would take them some time to break that, especially since Harry was quietly pressing more complicated protection spells into it even as he looked at them. Seriously - "It's been ten minutes and we are in Germany, how did you do that?"
"We're not complete idiots," said Savage irritably. "You broke a murderer out of Azkaban, we're not just going to report it to the Daily Prophet and then sit on our asses saying oh, darn, he got away. We've been monitoring a bunch of places including this - I'm not going to list them for you because again, we are not stupid - around the clock. We've got a different four-man team for the night shift, you're goddamn lucky Mad-Eye's asleep right now. Who the hell are you, anyway? And what have you done with the Boy-Who-Lived? I know he's not dead, if you're still using him for Polyjuice."
"Okay, first of all," said Harry, blinking, "good job, seriously, I genuinely did not think the Auror Office was this competent without Director Bones in it."
"Oh, thanks so much," drawled Redwood, drawing spiky red runes on Harry's shield and making an annoyed face when they disrupted into sparks rather than breaking the shield. Harry smirked in her general direction. In the absence of Unforgivables, magical combat was a decided win for the defense. Shields were just more powerful than offensive spells, if you used them correctly. You could only ever win on the offense by being dramatically more powerful than your opponent, or knowing something they didn't. There were only four of them versus two, Sirius having started throwing up more layers under Harry's shield as soon as he was done counting out twenty Galleons for Gregorovitch (cost of two seven-Galleon wands, plus a surcharge for Suddenly Aurors). And Harry was, actually, reasonably good at this particular task. He'd discovered sometime during Auror training that his shields were actually pretty good if he put the effort into holding them, because of the sheer number of people who had tried to murder him over the course of his life.
And, yes, he was going to be insufferably smug about it.
"That's not going to work," Harry said cheerfully. Redwood, to her credit, ignored him. This was a time-consuming task even at the best of times, which was why it had taken entire minutes for them to shatter the shield Harry had put on the door to Azkaban even when he wasn't there to keep reinforcing it. Unfortunately, it was also really difficult to Apparate out from under a shield you were maintaining, which was why they were still here, while Proudfoot stalked around the edge of the dome and started methodically bombarding it with breaker hexes. Harry was sort of vaguely hoping that Sirius would figure something out, because he wasn't actually sure what he was going to do. He didn't know how the Aurors had found them and didn't feel particularly sanguine about the idea of running away without knowing whether they'd be followed. Charms for tracking Apparition existed, although they were difficult and there were countercharms. "Anyway, second thing, you realize that Thief's Downfall strips Polyjuice, right?"
There was a pause, during which Savage and Scrimgeour exchanged dubious frowns. Harry took that confused break to cast tracking countercharms on his general vicinity, just in case anyone here could do an Apparition trace. The great-shield should block that, but it never hurt to be redundantly safe. Savage growled at him, in a way that suggested he recognized the spell.
That done, Harry continued talking: "So, to answer the question, I am in fact the Boy-Who-Lived. Can you tell Dumbledore I'm not dead, please? I don't think he'd believe me if I wrote him a letter."
"No, probably not," said Scrimgeour, now giving him an intent, fascinated look. It made him look much more familiar, much more like the iron lion Harry had briefly known, and less like a young man who only vaguely resembled him. Rufus Scrimgeour had been a Gryffindor, Harry knew, but a very quiet one, rather more like stern Minerva McGonagall than like outrageously glittery Albus Dumbledore. And he had always been insufferably lawful, but he had died defending Harry; the resemblance made him feel very guilty. But there was nothing for it, really. They weren't going to trust him, perhaps even less now that he'd demonstrated that 'Harry Potter got kidnapped and then impersonated by somebody who then broke Sirius Black out of Azkaban' was maybe not the thing that had happened. Scrimgeour asked, without turning his head from staring at Harry, "Matt, you think he's been Imperiused?"
"I can't think of a better explanation," gritted Savage. He was bouncing up and down on his toes, a caricature of badly-contained adrenaline. He glowed dark, dark red. "But I'd need to get closer to him to check. And kids don't just - you can't actually make people cast spells they don't know." He was fidgeting with what had to be a borrowed wand, because his own was in Sirius' jacket pocket. He changed the subject, looked at Gregorovitch. "Wandmaker, why didn't you report them?"
Gregorovitch gave him a look of deep disgust. "Because I prefer to not be dead?" he suggested darkly.
"Hey, we wouldn't actually have killed you," protested Sirius. "At worst you'd've spent a couple of hours Stunned and not remembered why."
"I can't imagine why you'd think I would actually believe that," said the wandmaker.
"Eh," shrugged Sirius. He had a point. "Hey Matt, what do I get if I give you your wand back?"
" ... it takes me slightly less effort to hex you," said Savage, eyebrows rising. "You don't seriously think I wouldn't still arrest you? You stole my wand."
"Technically, I stole your wand," corrected Harry brightly. "Sorry, I needed it." He really was sorry. The problem was, most of the Death Eaters were either legally exonerated or in jail, and until the next War started brewing - which Harry was planning to try to prevent if possible - the Aurors basically had nothing to do except try to find Sirius and 'rescue' Harry. So inconveniencing them was sort of necessary. But still, he didn't like it, and it wasn't like he and Sirius had any other reason they were likely to find themselves stripped of disguises. Although Harry couldn't actually think of any way the Aurors could have found them just because they suddenly looked like themselves again. Unless they had some kind of super-advanced scrying that had mysteriously stopped existing again by the time Harry started training, the only kinds of tracking they had, that would work on any target other than one who'd been standing within twenty feet of you less than ten seconds ago, were the stuff that got used for enforcing the underage magic laws, which was mostly magic heat maps and wand-tracking ... wait ...
They'd been stupid.
No wonder the wand shops had been first on the Aurors' list of places to keep watch on.
"Sirius," said Harry, "how good are you at cursebreaking?"
"Uh, probably better than you, but not great?" hazarded Sirius.
Harry handed him the rowan wand he was holding. "I think these have Trace charms on them. Wouldn't be surprised if everything in the building does."
"Oh," said Sirius.
"I hate you," said Savage flatly. "Whoever the hell you are. Some arsehole with super Polyjuice or Black talking through Imperius or bloody You-Know-Who. I hate you."
"I," said Harry, grinning widely, "am Harry Potter. And I am also not completely stupid."
"Yeah, they totally do," said Sirius, who had just done several detection charms and was not paying much attention to the conversation. "Gimme a minute."
"John, Devi, any progress?" asked Scrimgeour. Redwood shook her head and Proudfoot growled something profane, but neither had any progress to report. They were trying to use shield-breaking magic that had gone obsolete decades before the shields Harry was using had even been invented. This, Harry reflected, was somewhat analogous to watching bomb disposal experts from the eighteen hundreds try to disarm a nuclear weapon. They were just missing some fundamental information and it wasn't going to work. Still, they kept trying. They were Aurors, after all.
"Sorry," Harry said, not quite managing to sound entirely sincere. He reinforced the shields again, just in case. "So, what'd you bribe Rita Skeeter with to keep her from blaming MLE for the breakout and my ostensible kidnapping? I kept expecting to see a ridiculous overblown rant on misuse of government funding, and it was all just please be vigilant and this is definitely not going to happen again we promise and so on, I mean, good job, but how?" It probably wasn't going to happen again, mind. It was a good thing Harry didn't have any particular desire to break anyone else out of Azkaban, because they were probably going to be even more careful with their security from now on. Better alarms, more distance between the Apparition point and the door, that kind of thing. But Hermione had had to lock her in a glass jar for several months before Rita Skeeter had become even slightly cooperative; he was genuinely impressed that the Aurors had managed to avoid getting lambasted all over the Daily Prophet, given that Magical Britain apparently did not actually have any laws about libel.
Hermione's approach had frankly been kind of excessively cruel, particularly since (unlike Hermione's solution to the Umbridge problem) it had been based on calm decision-making as opposed to panicked improvisation, and Harry did not really think the Aurors were likely to have tried it.
"No comment," said Scrimgeour thinly.
Worth a shot.
Sirius said, "Hey, Matt and John's wands are Traced too, must've picked it up when we came in, should I try - "
"Nah, don't bother," said Harry, "they can have them back, no point being gratuitously rude and I'd rather not be here longer than we can avoid it."
"Alright," said Sirius amiably, and kept working.
There was an awkward silence, and then something else occurred to Harry.
"Hey, is Barty Crouch's wife dead yet?" he asked.
Everyone, even Sirius, gave him somewhat incredulous wow that was really insensitive looks.
" ... yes," said Savage, after a moment of visibly trying to think of any way Harry might plausibly weaponize this information. It wasn't like he couldn't just look it up, Althea Crouch's death would presumably be a matter of public record. It had just not occurred to him until just now. Still, Savage and Scrimgeour were both giving him suspicious looks. "Why?"
"Because that probably means his son is not dead and in fact is being kept under house arrest via Imperius," explained Harry.
"Sure," said Savage, rolling his eyes, "and Director Bones has Alicia Malfoy locked in her basement. We've been over this, I am not an idiot."
Harry blinked, and turned his head slightly to glance at Sirius, who was muttering to himself and pointing wands at each other. "Who's Alicia Malfoy?"
"Abraxas Malfoy's dead wife," supplied Sirius absently. "Jared Nott's twin sister. Died about two weeks before Narcissa's wedding, some kind of Mermish tuberculosis thing, Narcissa was all upset because it disturbed her seating arrangements slightly. I'm almost done, by the way."
"Right," said Harry, "yeah, that sounds like her. Okay, so no one's going to take me seriously apparently, that's cool, it's not like I'm the chosen one or anything, you can just assume I'm crazy and/or enchanted, that's fine." He shrugged. "You have to buy me a drink if Crouch Junior kills his father because you weren't paying attention, Savage."
"Aaaand I'm done," said Sirius, grinning. He handed Harry the rowan wand he'd chosen, and spun his new red oak in his hand, looking smug. Proudfoot and Redwood between them produced half a dozen inventive swear words. "Count of three?"
"Three, two, go," said Harry, who knew not to let the Aurors be ready to hex them. He dropped the shields on two, along with Proudfoot's wand, and on the count that should have been one, spun in a circle and Disapparated. Sirius, quick on the uptake, was just behind him.
In their wake would be left the sounds of angry Aurors snarling, hexes splintering shelves, and the gentle click of abandoned, tracking-charm-infested wands hitting the floor.
Chapter 9: Everything (Surprisingly Close To) According To Plan
They landed back in their hotel room, giggling like maniacs.
"That went well," said Sirius once he regained the ability to form coherent words. He was only mostly being sarcastic.
"Right?" beamed Harry. "I told you, I wasn't kidding, no matter how good my plans are, I always end up improvising anyway."
Sirius shrugged. "At least you're reasonably good at it. So! Where are we on our slightly mangled to-do list?"
There was a certain pause.
Harry said, "We probably should have written down our to-do list, shouldn't we."
"Yyyyyeeeees possibly," said Sirius, with a rueful expression. He scrunched his eyes shut thoughtfully. "But then it could theoretically be stolen and then all our secret plans would be unsecret, so maybe not. Well, first we need to not look like ourselves, again." This was a reasonable suggestion; they were still conspicuously Harry Potter and Sirius Black, as opposed to Adrian and Michael Murphy. The process of putting disguises together again ate almost an hour - they were hoping it would become quicker with practice - and then they found themselves back at the same point.
The next thing on their to-do list, they concluded, was to set up a Muggle bank account for Sirius and buy a house, but they couldn't actually do the second thing until Rex returned with money from Gringotts. So they consulted maps and located a local branch of a nationwide bank. Sirius, who knew zero things about the legal side of Muggle finance, sounded obviously poorly informed and got a lot of somewhat pitying looks from the bank staff in the process of trying to set up an account. But he managed to sound like a poorly-educated Muggle rather than a wizard, which was all they really needed. And although the teller didn't seem terribly inclined to believe them, he did explain the proper process for depositing large amounts of money at once (which Sirius explained blithely was due to a family inheritance). And he offered to refer them to a real estate agent.
Once they returned the hotel, Sirius had a checkbook, a debit card, several business cards, a stack of totally uninformative Information Packets, and an expression of great confusion. "That was weird and complicated," grumbled Harry. He'd spent the whole time being quiet and trying not to act noticeably not-five. One of the tellers had complimented Sirius on his 'exceptionally well-behaved son' and Harry had had to try very hard not to burst out laughing. "I suddenly understand," he sighed, flopping onto a bed, "why even Hermione prefers goblin banking." Interacting with Gringotts was exceptionally awkward for him, Ron, and Hermione, and all three of them usually delegated to Ginny wherever possible, but he and Ron had no idea how to interact with the Muggle system, so they'd kept doing it. He was vaguely aware that Hermione had a Muggle bank account, but she seemed to really dislike using it, and he had always wondered about that until just now.
"Huh," said Sirius. "Yeah. Bright side, people rarely question you when you throw lots of money at them, so this whole house-buying thing will probably not be complicated as soon as we demonstrate to the bankers that we have lots of money to throw around." He threw away the useless information packets and pocketed the rest of the things. "Now what?"
"I think at this point we should probably start designing defenses," said Harry. That would take time, and they couldn't do much else until they had a permanent residence.
So, this they did.
Rex returned, smug and fiery, a few days later, by which time Sirius had absorbed everything Harry knew about the twenty-first-century state of the art in defensive magic and used it to design a ward system that would have made Alastor Moody proud. They went back to the Muggle bank and caused a slight disturbance when the tellers realized that Sirius' heavy backpack was filled entirely with fifty-pound notes. Harry ended up having to surreptitiously Confound several dozen people to prevent them from calling the Muggle police on them. It looked, after all, entirely too much like Sirius must have done something wildly illegal, because you don't generally get hold of that much money all at once, in cash, legally. Sufficient application of magic caused them to accept the implausible 'it was an inheritance, ha ha elderly people and their distrust of technology' excuse eventually, however.
Buying a house was more complicated.
Especially since Harry had opinions less about what kind of house and more about where.
He knew where the Grangers lived, of course. He had been participatory in the process of rescuing them from Australia, and although he didn't remember their address, it was a matter of a few minutes' work to Apparate there in the middle of the night and read the street signs and the numbers on the door. Sirius ended up telling the real estate agent that he wanted to live 'somewhere in this area', pointing vaguely at a point somewhat nearby. Harry and Sirius soon found that they had badly underestimated how long this would take.
They had, unfortunately, had to decide that they shouldn't try to do anything complicated or attention-drawing until they were safely ensconced in something better-protected than a Muggle hotel room flooded with magic-damping charms. Certainly nothing like stealing Horcruxes from their variably well-defended hiding places. Harry was not at all sanguine about his ability to maintain damping charms while doing anything difficult, and Sirius was more than slightly concerned that the Aurors, even without convenient wand-specified tracking spells, had the detector power to catch them if they weren't surrounded by other wizards. So the Aurors might, Harry had concluded concernedly, be able to find them if they did anything magically loud.
"Building wards is magically loud," pointed out Sirius, after a second's alarmed pause.
"Oh," said Harry. "Shit." Then, after he'd thought about it for a moment, he said, "Okay, what if I hold temporary shields while you build wards? You saw, I can block out the Aurors fine if I stand still."
Sirius considered that, and then nodded. "Yeah, that could work."
It'd been nearly a month since they'd broken Sirius out of Azkaban, when their Muggle realtor offered to show them a house that Harry was almost positive was literally right across the street from the Doctors Granger. This was such an amazingly convenient coincidence that they spent a further week checking the building top to bottom for traps and signs of magic. This was a strange enough behavior even if they kept their wands out of sight that the realtor seemed to think they might be actually crazy, but he still knew real money when he saw it. So, once Harry was satisfied that the building was probably not going to try to eat them, Sirius bought the property outright.
Since it would look very weird to the surrounding Muggles if the move-in didn't involve actual moving vans, Harry and Sirius carefully rented storage space and bought a bunch of furniture, and then hired an actual Muggle moving company. They had to wait for the first of August so that the previous occupants could leave, however.
The time in between was allotted entirely to defense design. They went briefly to London in different disguises, to buy a truly ridiculous number of books, among which were contained the shield building references that Sirius wanted. You could never be too careful about looking suspicious, after all; so they made it look more like "it is a Ravenclaw's birthday" and less like "we are buying all of the required information with which to construct a way to hide from Aurors." Although, as Sirius pointed out rather amusedly when they'd gotten home, most people probably wouldn't be able to shut out the Aurors for any length of time even with this much information. "We," he said, "are cheating outrageously."
"Always the best possible approach," said Harry brightly.
By the end of July they had something, built from what Sirius had designed while they were waiting for their owl to return. Rex was now under persistent Disillusionment, so that the Muggles in the hotel they were staying in wouldn't notice him being extremely conspicuously magic, and they had a ward system drawn out that Harry was moderately certain even Dumbledore might have had trouble penetrating. Although, really, he was going to try very hard to make sure that the Headmaster of Hogwarts had no reason to try. They didn't need that in their lives.
So it was that on the first of August, 1986, "Michael Murphy" and his son "Adrian" moved into a house across the street from the Doctors Granger and their daughter Hermione.
Nervous about standing around in the unshielded street, Harry disguised his wand as a large red feather so that he could keep it in hand, wave it at people (doing silent checks for magic, especially disguises), and look like a Muggle kid with a toy or comfort object, even to wizarding observers. He didn't think there were any wizards living near here, but you could never be sure without checking, and the kind of wide-angle detection spells that would tell him that were magically-loud enough that he didn't feel at all safe doing it until they had real wards.
Sirius had his wand up the sleeve of his leather jacket, and he was still a little twitchy. He was directing the movement of furniture and intermittently glancing at Harry for confirmation that nothing strange was going on, while Harry wandered around slightly underfoot and took advantage of no one looking too closely at small children.
No one, of course, except the extremely observant Grangers.
Harry was looking very intently at a passing car, which was driving by unusually slowly, when a little girl with a great cloud of brown hair and a little pocket notebook asked him curiously, "Why d'you have a big red feather?" He yelped and jumped, startled by the sudden voice. It was familiar, and at the same time very strange. He stared wordlessly at tiny six-year-old Hermione Granger for a long and awkward moment, finding that he had completely forgotten the excuse that he'd invented in advance.
"Um," he said. And then, because her eyebrows were rising, he offered, " ... I like feathers?"
Hermione said, "Okay," and shrugged. Hermione was six; she was curious, but not yet paranoid. "Are you going to be our new neighbors?" she asked, after another awkward silence.
"Yeah," said Harry. "Yeah, I'm Adrian, that's my dad," and he pointed at Sirius.
"Hermione Granger, pleased to meet you," said Hermione almost automatically, holding out her hand politely. It was her left, because she was still holding her notebook.
Harry cheerfully shook hands left-handed. "Same to you! Do you go to school?"
Hermione gave him a look like that was a weird question. Harry supposed it probably was; he should have said where do you go to school or what year are you in, but he wasn't thinking very clearly today and he'd forgotten how old Muggle children usually were when they started school. Nevertheless, Hermione said, "Of course I go to school, I started last year. Don't you?"
"No," said Harry, "um, I just learn stuff from my dad."
"Huh," said Hermione. "Doesn't he go to work?"
Well, that was an obvious flaw in the plan, wasn't it. They couldn't say Sirius had a Perfectly Normal Muggle Job and then also say Harry was homeschooled, not when his imaginary mother was even more dead than his real one.
"Um," said Harry. He supposed they'd just have to admit that Sirius was independently wealthy for inheritance reasons. That wasn't actually unheard of or anything, and it was technically true. "No?"
Hermione frowned at him. "That's weird," she opined. "My mum and dad both do, that's why I have to go to school."
Well, that was a convenient way to change the subject to: "What do your parents do?"
"Oh, they're dentists," said Hermione with the cheerful tone of the only child who has never had an unpleasant experience with one. "They fix people's teeth!"
"Cool," said Harry.
There was another awkward silence.
Harry was beginning to understand why they'd needed Ron even before he learned to fight.
"Um," said Hermione, glancing back at her house in a way that told Harry she'd been told to make friends and kind of wished she didn't have to. She fidgeted with her little notebook and asked, "Do you like to read?"
"Occasionally, I guess?" said Harry, wincing. Hermione didn't know about magic, he couldn't say I'd rather play Quidditch. And besides Hermione didn't like Quidditch, and it had just occurred to him that he was going to have trouble actually making friends with Hermione. Because they didn't actually have much in common, before there had been magic and a war to fight. His entire mental model of Hermione was tied up in her fascination with magic and the ways the magical world worked. It had just occurred to him to wonder: If she hadn't been a witch, what would she have done with her life? What would you expect a six-year-old version of her to expect from her life? Did she want to be a doctor? A lawyer? An animal-rights activist? What did she do with her time that wasn't related to magic?
... Hermione was or would be an otter Animagus, just like her Patronus. She must like to swim, right? Harry wasn't opposed to the sport in concept, although he'd honestly never really tried it. Feathers and water don't often mix in terribly friendly ways.
Still, he wanted to be friends. It was important. "I like to swim?" he offered. Maybe he would, if he tried it.
To his deep and intense relief, Hermione lit up like a torch. "I like swimming!" she enthused. "There's an indoor pool at the gym a few blocks from here, I bet my mum would take you with us next time we go, she'd be really pleased, would you?"
"Okay," said Harry, smiling. "Yeah."
The next few weeks of his life were taken up by violently remodeling the entire house they'd just bought. They made sure to visibly take trips to the hardware store and to actually paint the outside bits by hand, but mostly it was done with magic, taking apart the walls and sinking defensive magic into the very bones of the house. They carved defensive runes into every inch of the building and then filled them in with spackle and fresh paint. They reinforced the windows and doors to make it equally difficult to break in using brute physical force. They covered everything with the magical equivalent of soundproofing, making sure that no noticeable signals of magic would escape the building. Since they needed to interact with Muggles there were no Muggle-repelling charms, only spells that would make everything look perfectly normal, so that the cutlery wouldn't move and the radio would go silent and the books would pretend not to be about magic and Rex would not catch fire, if anyone other than Sirius and Harry was in the house.
They had considered various forms of "if you are magic / not magic" type charms, and rejected all of them. If they wanted to interact with Hermione and not break the Statute early for her, things in their house could not react differently to her versus to her parents. And building in an exception was insufficient; it was theoretically possible, although not likely, that they had other magical neighbors. And they did not want anyone in the magical community noticing them. They did set up the system so that other people could be conveniently added to its permissions, though, for later use. And the house would default to not letting people in, in a way that looked like "the locks are unusually difficult to pick" or "the windows are unusually hard to break" or whatever; either Harry or Sirius had to actually open the door for someone, deliberately. Harry, thinking of his Cloak, had made sure they built in required-intent so that someone couldn't sneak invisibly by when they walked through the front door.
And, of course, they made all of their interior design decisions based on Lily's remembered opinions (warm golds and greens, and lots of bookshelves), because why not?
Sirius managed not to be completely terrifying, thankfully, when Mr. Dr. Granger ambled over to say hello with a plate of homemade cookies and a business card. He introduced himself politely, made tea, and conveyed most of his carefully invented cover story. Wealthy and technologically-averse parents who had died in a car accident and left him enough money to live without working, that's why he doesn't own a car and will probably get a motorcycle; wife who'd been an interior designer and then died of cancer, note how his house is much prettier than it would be if he hadn't had her plans; dead wife had strong feelings about public education so he's homeschooling his son. He said thank you for the cookies, and was friendly, and politely deflected John Granger's rather observant inquiry as to whether he'd been in the military, because he had 'that sort of look' to him.
Meanwhile, Harry went to the community pool with Hermione and Mrs. Dr. Granger, and had a surprising amount of fun.
Swimming, it turned out, was much more pleasant when you were not in imminent danger of being drowned by grindylows.
Chapter 10: You Have Forgotten Something
It became a sort of weekly habit for Harry and Hermione, accompanied by whichever of Hermione's parents was free, to traipse down the street to the community pool and go swimming. Their conversations tended to be rather one-sided, Harry just nodding agreeably as Hermione chattered on about her schoolwork and her favorite books and so on, but Harry, although these things were mostly meaningless to him, honestly didn't mind. He was long used to listening to Hermione enthuse about things he didn't personally have much interest in, and even if Hermione's voice was much higher-pitched than he was used to, it had a familiar cadence to it. Surrounded by unfamiliar things (a new house, a new street, new neighbors, a new wand) and unfamiliar feelings (he was too short, too slow, too weak, too young), the presence of one bit of normalcy was extremely soothing.
In late September, they'd gone to visit the Delacours for an afternoon. Fleur had been utterly delighted to see her "cousin Adrian", and she'd gleefully dragged him around the house showing off her gardens. They had a Quidditch pitch on the grounds of their ridiculously beautiful estate, surrounded by foliage that protected them from Muggle view if they stayed relatively low to the ground. Apparently Apolline loved to garden and had instilled the love of foliage in her daughter, but Fleur admitted cheerfully that she'd gotten slightly distracted from the practice when she discovered broomsticks. "Flowers," she said sagely, "do not fly." She glanced at the neatly stacked broomsticks by the shiny golden (shortened) goal hoops, and then said, "Wanna race?"
As much as common sense told Harry that it would not be a good idea to demonstrate how he was way better at flying than any five-year-old had any right to be, he hadn't been on a broomstick for months. "Yes," he said, before his brain had had a chance to object. "Yes, let's."
It turned out he hadn't had to worry about it. Although Fleur's mother had clearly had the foresight to put a number of safety charms on the broomsticks she let her daughter use freely, it was surprisingly difficult to control a broom when you were so tiny. Harry found he couldn't get more than ten feet off the ground, since the brooms had been charmed not to do that, and that they'd respond to simple voice commands in addition to normal controls, but all the same he had a lot of trouble. It was hard, for instance, to corner properly when he was so much smaller than the broom, especially since he'd never actually tried to fly before he was eleven, and nine-year-old Fleur outflew him quite fairly.
They went inside again and had tiny cute sandwiches and grape juice, and then bid goodbye and headed back to England. Harry found to his great amusement that Sirius had spent most of the afternoon politely having tea with Franz Delacour and talking about healing charms. Sirius was very proud of himself for managing to have this conversation, inclusive of discussing how best to treat bleeding wounds that had been cursed, without admitting to having been part of the Order of the Phoenix, which officially did not exist. "I am very proud of you," agreed Harry. "Also, really, Dumbledore actually managed to make people think the Order isn't real? Are you kidding me? It was so obviously a thing!"
"There were never very many of us," pointed out Sirius. "And there was always enough overlap with the Auror Corps that anything we did could be easily attributed to the DMLE. It wasn't like Chief Bones was going to interrogate her brother that closely about what he did with his spare time, not when we were making her life so much easier."
"Okay, fair point," admitted Harry. Then they resumed work on their exhaustive, paranoid defenses.
When they were finally completely confident in the ability of their wards to resist any assault or suspicion or notice, which was halfway through December, they moved on to the next stage of their rewritten, very cautious plan.
First, Sirius gave the goblins a truly ridiculous bribe in exchange for transferring a huge fraction of the contents of the Black Family Vault into a new account labelled 'Michael Murphy' and then erasing the paper trail between the two. Since his mother's relatively recent death, he'd become the owner of the accumulated wealth of the House of Black, so he had plenty of money, it was just a question of having convenient access to it without the Aurors noticing. The only way to do that was to get the goblins to cooperate with making the records appear as if Sirius Black was drawing money and disappearing with it (as you might expect from a man on the run from the law), and Michael Murphy had been paid consistently, for years, for working as a cursebreaker and had nothing whatsoever to do with Sirius Black. Fortunately, it was 1986 and the goblins of Gringotts had no reason to have a grudge against Harry Potter or anyone associated with him, so they were willing to do this if their palms were greased sufficiently well, and there was no shortage of gold for this purpose. (Harry didn't try to draw from the Potter vault. His family didn't use blood keys and he would need the actual, physical key, which Dumbledore currently had. Fortunately, he didn't need to.)
Second, Michael Murphy got a subscription to the Daily Prophet. They needed to know what was going on in the wizarding world, even if they were going to avoid interacting with it as much as possible. They got a number of back articles from a secondhand bookstore, as well. From this they learned that Sirius Black's escape and Harry Potter's disappearance were no longer quite front-page news, but they were still mentioned, as the subject of much speculation and debate about what had happened and where they might have gone. It was clear that Dumbledore was being obstructive; although he was nominally cooperating with the Aurors and had apparently been forced to admit that he'd given Harry to Muggle relatives (there was a lot of yelling in the editorials about this), the Chief Warlock was for 'unknown reasons' being very cagey about what he thought might have happened to Harry. Harry read that article, sighed, and said aloud, "Yeah, he thinks I'm possessed."
"Well," said Sirius, "to be fair, I wouldn't have guessed time travel in a million years, either. And he still thinks I'm a Death Eater. From that starting premise it's an easy conclusion if you see us together."
"Yeah, we'll see what he does when we get to fixing that, I guess."
Third, they went to Grimmauld Place and Silenced all the portraits, starting with Phineas Nigellus, plus Kreacher. Harry insisted very firmly that they were not to hurt Kreacher, to Sirius' annoyance, but the elderly house elf was a security risk. Powerful permanent Silencing spells were the best way to fix that without killing him, although they took some time to do. They didn't need to permanently silence the portraits, just keep them quiet long enough to do what they were there for without being interrupted. Once they'd done that, Harry picked up the Slytherin Locket (sitting innocuously on a display shelf), glared at it a little, and pocketed it. Then they went methodically through the house, taking everything that might be useful and destroying everything dangerous, and left. The Locket went into a pre-prepared invisible locked box in a charmed locked chest in a closet without a door in the basement of their house, where it would stay until they figured out how to effectively destroy it.
Fourth, they went to Little Hangleton, broke into the Gaunts' empty house, and found to Harry's dismay that the Gaunt Ring containing the Resurrection Stone was nowhere to be found. "Are you sure," said Sirius, "that it should be here?"
"Well, Dumbledore said it belonged to Tom's uncle Morfin and he ... stole it from him ... when he was ... in school ... " Harry trailed off, sighing. "That was in the thirties or something. No, you're right, I don't know why I assumed he'd have brought it back here to hide. That was the one Dumbledore found over the summer between my fifth and sixth years of school, he never actually told me where he'd found it."
"That," said Sirius, "is a problem."
"Thank you," said Harry dryly, "I had no idea."
They set the building on fire, and the Riddle Manor as well for good measure.
To Harry's great amusement, this completely failed to appear in the Daily Prophet.
Fifth, they designed a stack of charms that didn't actually involve disguising themselves. When they were pretending to be perfectly normal people it was important that thy were unrecognizeable; if they were going to go mess with things, that was a pointless effort. The goal of course was not to be noticed at all, but once they got caught there'd be no point in trying to pretend to be someone else. So this was just a project in making several different defensive charms work together - Disillusionment, silent step charms, Notice-Me-Nots and their relatives, etc.
Sixth, on December 23rd of 1986, around midnight, they did a number of things in very quick succession. Only most of them were horribly illegal.
Sirius, dogform and invisible, crept into Hogwarts via the Shrieking Shack. He padded silently through the darkened halls of the mostly-empty castle, bleeding charms that said pay no attention to me, I am not interesting, there is nothing here that is worth looking for, covered with scent-masking charms that would prevent even Mrs. Norris from noticing his presence. According to Harry he'd been able to do this without a wand, without secrecy spells and when the castle was full of students, but you could never be too careful. He broke into Filch's office, rifled through the confiscated student property boxes, and turned into a person just long enough to pocket the Marauders' Map.
Harry, slightly less quiet but considerably smaller, stood on the edge of the Weasleys' property for awhile, examining the old, old wards. Bill Weasley was fifteen, not yet an expert on the construction and destruction of stationary protective magic; it would be some years before he would replace and improve the magic that had sat on the Burrow for generations. For now, it was old and outdated, and Harry - after a little time making sure he understood the setup - stepped through the lines with barely a whisper of a ripple in the magic. There would not be so much as a spark of an alarm, as he padded up to the front door, thought alohomora at the lock, and stepped inside the Burrow. He let himself have a half a moment of staring at the grandfather clock (Ginevra - Home), and then headed up the stairs.
Sirius did not remember where he was going, exactly. He had never been to the Room of Requirement and most of what he consciously knew about Hogwarts was still gone in the fog of Demented memories. But all the same, he had spent seven years learning more about what made the castle tick than most teachers ever knew. If he didn't try to think about it, didn't do anything but slide into easy habits, he found himself on the seventh floor, having crossed paths with no one, without even really trying. Then he went to where Harry had told him to go, because the Room of Requirement wasn't on his Map, and paced across the hallway on silent padded paws, and thought: Give me the place where things are hidden.
Harry nearly walked all the way to the attic, carefully silencing the creaky stairs as he went, and then remembered that Scabbers had not been Ron's pet rat until their first year of school. Then he reversed course and found the room, partway up the stairs, which belonged to Percy. It would have been stranger, looking at Percy Weasley at the age of only ten, if he hadn't been quite distracted by the sleeping rat on the desk. Harry had spent a long time coming to terms with what had happened to Peter Pettigrew, who had eventually regretted his actions, but he still couldn't quite help the spike of hatred. So many things, he thought darkly, are your fault. He hit the sleeping rat on the nose with a silent Stunning Jinx, and then padded across the room to pick him up, wrapping Wormtail in dark ropes of magic as he went. He left a note on the desk:
To Percy Weasley:
Ask me in five years why I needed your rat if you really want to know.
You have that right, but -
Trust me, you probably don't want to know.
Sorry for the inconvenience.
Buy yourself an owl, they're more useful anyway.
(Along with this note, he left thirty-five Galleons in a little bag. That was rather more money than was necessary to buy an owl, but he knew perfectly well that Percy would give the money to his mother.)
Sirius stepped through the door to the Room of Hidden Things, and was briefly struck speechless by the sheer enormity and dormant, dusty magnificence of the place. He made a mental note not to let this place be set aflame as Harry had described happening. Partly because there was no way it wasn't full of irreplaceable historical artifacts, but mostly because it was suddenly extremely important that Moony get to see it. (Sirius had been told Moony's real name, which he'd forgotten in Azkaban, but he still hadn't really internalized it again. To him, Remus Lupin was mostly an accumulation of wolf-shaped, parchment-scented sensory impressions; but all the same, he knew his friend would want to see this place.) He couldn't stand in awe for too long, though; he had specific instructions and a specific goal. So the dog paced through the stacks of dusty lost things, looking for a broken Vanishing Cabinet and a fraction of a marble statue, where Harry had said he would find the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw sitting innocuously on a table.
Harry Disapparated as soon as he was far enough from the Burrow that Silencing charms would completely muffle the sound. He landed in the atrium of Department of Magical Law Enforcement, just outside the elevator and in front of the doors that led to various offices, training rooms, holding cells, and so forth. He heard the very faint sound of someone getting up very suddenly from a chair, and knew all his defensive spells had been inadequate to the task of fooling the Eye of Vance. Accordingly, he moved quickly. The walls were white and clean; a modified inking charm was all that was required to draw clear, bold letters in black paint.
Peter Pettigrew is an unregistered rat Animagus.
Peter Pettigrew killed twelve unarmed Muggles with a Blasting Curse and pinned it on Sirius Black.
(He was also Lily and James Potter's Secret-Keeper and a Death Eater spy, but those things technically are not illegal.)
IF YOU LET HIM GET AWAY,
I WILL KILL HIM, AND THEN YOU.
That note, Harry didn't sign with his name or anything else. He just pulled the wooden leg off of a chair, shrank it to rat-size with a Transfiguration charm that would stop working the moment anyone did an Animagus transformation within five feet of it, and nailed still-unconscious Wormtail to the wall through the ribcage. (He'd be fine. Wizards could take a lot of punishment, and unlike vampires had no unusual relationship with wooden stakes. He probably wasn't going to enjoy waking up, though.) He caught just a glimpse of Alastor Moody running the door, and could not resist waving cheerily; and then he was gone, leaving the sound of yelling behind him.
Sirius turned into himself. He pushed stray books aside, carefully, and wondered why Harry had said there'd be a Vanishing Cabinet here. Something about Draco Malfoy, he thought, but maybe that hadn't happened yet. There was only the marble bust of a woman who might or might not be Rowena Ravenclaw, and dust and books and broken things ... and there it was, an artifact lost to the ages. Sirius picked up the Diadem of Ravenclaw, and stared at it. Something about it was magnetic, powerfully fascinating. It was delicate and light, woven of platinum sprinkled with tiny sapphires. He had never seen such a beautiful artifact in all his life.
"I," he said aloud, "am forgetting something," and then he put it on.
Chapter 11: Everything Is Fine
Harry landed in the Forest of Dean, checked that he hadn't been followed, put up stationary and mobile shields, and recast all his stealth charms just in case. Then, once under shields - he couldn't have done this at the DMLE, there wasn't time and the building was warded against this sort of thing - he began to cast the anti-tracking charms that would obscure his Apparition trail. He could practically hear Robards giving him grief about the redundancy, but whatever, Robards was an idiot and Harry had no idea how the man had ever, even briefly, been allowed to outrank anyone. Stationary shields were orders of magnitude harder to break than mobile shields, and could cover multiple people, but you had to pay attention to them, and you had to drop them to Apparate. Mobile shields would stick around until broken, but they were much more fragile if you were trying to multitask. He'd rather have them both. You just did not mess around when Alastor Moody was your opponent.
Paranoia soon found itself justified, to Harry's simultaneous relief and alarm, when Mad-Eye materialized with a pop just inside Harry's stationary shield, mere seconds after he'd begun casting anti-trackers, and bounced several nasty curses off of his mobile shields.
Harry yelped, dropped stationary shielding, and Apparated out of the way of a wide-angle bone-breaker hex. He bounced, halfway-nonexistent, through several dozen-meter Apparition steps while he repaired his mobile shields, dodged several more curses in the process, fixed his shields again after they started to crystallize around a few brightly colored immobilizing jinxes, and then got hit with a momentum-changer that his shield wasn't designed to block. He got knocked violently sideways, and smacked into a tree halfway through the incantation for his stationary shield. This time he'd made the shield small enough that it wouldn't be possible to get inside without breaking it, and it sliced partway through the tree he'd failed to notice, giving him less space to move than he'd wanted. Still, the shield worked, and his feet touched the ground (barely), so he wasn't going to complain. Leaning against the tree, he paused for a moment to breathe; there was no air in the space you traveled through to Apparate, and doing it a number of times in close succession wasn't pleasant if you were out of practice at timing your breaths.
(Harry made a mental note to do some drills on that, soon.)
"Harry Potter," said Mad-Eye in a dark voice, stalking towards Harry. He'd bounced a few curses off the stationary shield, noticed that they were having zero effect, and stopped. "Or should I say, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"
"Fuck's sake," coughed Harry, his voice still slightly strained from lack of air. "I am not Voldemort. Hell would he give you Pettigrew for?"
"Scapegoat," suggested Mad-Eye instantly. "An attempt to pin Black's crime on someone else so that we'll trust him again. Revenge, maybe - if Pettigrew's been alive for four years he must have had good reason not to want to be found, maybe he did something to annoy you. Or maybe Pettigrew's a plant, maybe he's innocent but he's got a time bomb planted in his arm, maybe he's a sleeper agent, maybe he's really guilty and he's a distraction. Maybe he's really guilty and you want us to think that means Black must be innocent so that we'll burn energy and resources rescuing him from you, and then you can use him as a spy. Maybe something more complicated I haven't thought of yet."
Okay, Harry had dramatically underestimated this man's paranoia.
"Put Pettigrew under Veritaserum," he suggested, "he's not clever enough to Obliviate himself, he'll admit to killing a dozen Muggles and faking his own death."
"Assuming we actually do that and assuming that's what he actually says and assuming he hasn't been Obliviated by someone cleverer," growled Mad-Eye, "I've already thought of at least two ways you could still be trying to fuck us over. Weren't you listening?"
"I guess I could be," sighed Harry, annoyed. "If I hated you. Which I don't. Because I am not Voldemort."
Mad-Eye's eyebrows, or what remained of them, rose. "Less than five minutes ago you painted a death threat on my office wall."
" ... fair point," admitted Harry. That had probably not been a terribly good decision. And it had been rather more emphatically violent a message than he'd planned. Maybe he should be taking more careful inventory of how the scar-Horcrux was affecting his moods. It wasn't capable of possessing him, he was pretty sure, even without any Occlumency, but it might well be nudging him into being more impulsive, more angry, more violent. He'd gotten so used to not having it that he'd forgotten that might be a problem, he'd been considering it only in terms of what Dumbledore might think. "In my defense, Peter Pettigrew killed my parents and got my godfather thrown in Azkaban for a crime he didn't commit," he offered. "I want him to spend the rest of his miserable life in Azkaban, and if I have to take the distant second choice of instead making him very dead, I am going to be extremely annoyed at someone."
Mad-Eye rolled his eyes. It was a sight to behold. "Look," he said, "I realize that tricking people into things is your second favorite thing after torturing them, but you are not going to convince me that you're Harry Potter. You don't talk like you're five years old. You don't fight like you're five years old. You don't even move like you're five years old. You might be in Harry Potter's body, sure, I heard the report about you under Thief's Downfall. But if you're not You-Know-Who I'd bet money you're one of his minions. You fight like Savage got high on black lightning. You're not Harry Potter and I know it, so do us all a favor and stop trying."
Black lightning was a magical liquid drug, the active ingredients of which were vampire venom and house-elf blood. Some people added ground-up dragon scales. Harry was not completely clear on how it was made, mostly because the one time he'd come across a recipe for it, it'd been written in a language he didn't speak, and he'd given it to Hermione, and she'd taken one look at it, made a truly awful face, and set it on fire. So he just knew that it had to be bad. But people did it anyway, if they were desperate. Black lightning sped you up, made you scarier - you could run faster and dodge faster and cast faster, and it kept you awake with an effect similar to an adrenaline rush. It wasn't a huge problem in actual duelling circuits, despite its utility, because people under the influence of black lightning were very distinctive and easy to identify: They were like sticky, skipping records, perfectly still and calm at strange intervals and then bursting into sudden, chaotic motion that was faster than any human had the right to be capable of. It was extremely addictive and highly illegal, in addition to being obvious, so you mostly saw it among career criminals, which meant the Auror Office dealt with it on an occasional basis. Fighting one was largely an exercise in shielding, because most people couldn't dodge that fast but they could wait it out. The effect only lasted for about a half hour at the high end, and people usually collapsed afterwards from the strain, physically and magically exhausted.
This was not the first time Harry had been told he came across that way when thrown into combat. John Proudfoot had noticed almost instantly, the first time he watched Harry and Ron practicing on the Aurors' training floor. There had been a somewhat unpleasant internal investigation, a great deal of confused press, and then shortly thereafter a lot of apologizing. The Auror Office had access to the country's best Healers and truth serum; it didn't take that long for them to conclude that Harry had never touched the stuff in his life and in fact had never heard of it until Proudfoot brought it up.
He really did just fight like a very talented crazy person.
But that had been several years ago and a decade and a half in the future.
"Um," said Harry. He sighed. "I suppose there is not really any convenient way for me to offer to drink Veritaserum and then repeat to you that I am Harry Potter and I have not been possessed and I have not been taking illegal drugs and so on." He tried to smile, sensed that it had come out a bit crooked. "Since you'd just hand me over to Dumbledore and he would try to send me to my family. For my safety."
"Seriously?" said Mad-Eye, sounding genuinely astonished. "Your excuse for not wanting to talk to Dumbledore is you don't like your family? Did you think I'd actually believe that?"
Tilting his head, Harry asked, confused, " ... did you have another reason in mind?"
Mad-Eye made an impatient, disbelieving noise. "No," he said sarcastically, "I can't think of any reason why the leader of the Death Eaters would want to avoid being anywhere near Albus Dumbledore. None at all."
Oh. Right. Only one he ever feared and all that. As far as anyone in this time was concerned, Dumbledore was Tom's greatest enemy. They didn't get over that until, what, 1996 or something? Harry wasn't even sure, he had been a little busy at the time being a spectacularly moody teenager. "You know," said Harry, leaning his head back against the tree again and sighing, "the really depressing thing about this conversation is that I could probably convince the Death Eaters that I'm Voldemort. It probably wouldn't even be difficult. And I have no idea how to convince you that I'm not."
"You can't," shrugged Mad-Eye. "Dumbledore's reasonably certain you can beat Veritaserum and I don't have any reason not to believe him."
Harry's eyebrows rose. He couldn't help it. You had to be a really good Occlumens to beat truth serum. "Beat Verita - me? Seriously? I had trouble blocking dreams when I first learned, how on ... earth would ... I ...," he trailed off, and sighed. "Right, right, Voldy's a master of the mental arts, right, of course." It was surprisingly difficult to keep in mind that the old Auror was talking to him with the firm conviction that he was actually Voldemort. Harry knew this, but it still didn't immediately register that that was what Mad-Eye meant when he said you. "Awesome," grumbled Harry. "So even if I could arrange, without being kidnapped and thereby dramatically inconvenienced, to offer you magical proof that I am not lying, I could theoretically still be Voldemort who is unusually good at defeating magical lie detection. And you would still not believe me."
"That's about right," agreed Mad-Eye. "You could just give up now, save us all the trouble."
"God dammit, Mad-Eye," said Harry. He considered for a long moment what his possible options were. The silence went on long enough that Mad-Eye started trying to break his stationary shield, which was very slightly concerning but honestly only very slightly. Harry had faith in his invented-fifteen-years-in-the-future protection, and he had a problem to solve. If the Aurors, and Dumbledore, were genuinely convinced that he was possessed by Voldemort and would not be convinced even by Harry's testimony under Veritaserum, he was going to have a lot of trouble just casually showing up for school in 1991. Dumbledore might not even send him a letter. They were also unlikely to accept Peter's arrest as proof of Sirius' innocence, now that Mad-Eye had observed Harry to be at fault for that (which hadn't been in the plan, but plans never worked). Although he did think it was likely that they'd still follow standard procedure, interrogate Pettigrew, and arrest him for being, if nothing else, an illegal Animagus. Unfortunately, Harry realized, if they believed he was a Death Eater this might just mean they'd assume he was a plant, and take that as more evidence that Harry was their enemy.
"Hell is this shield even made of," muttered Mad-Eye irritably.
And being able to perform magical feats previously unheard-of, like defeating an entire squad of Aurors with a single shield, was not going to help his "I am totally Harry Potter even though Harry Potter is five years old" argument. If he kept going around being totally ridiculous at everyone, they were just going to keep thinking he was Voldemort, and they would treat him accordingly. He'd probably be arrested on sight no matter how peaceable he tried to be, and Harry wouldn't be at all surprised if he found the gates of Hogwarts barred to him.
He did not like that idea. At all.
He supposed he could probably arrange for Adrian Murphy to go to Beauxbatons. Fleur's parents were an influential part of the French political system and if he asked extremely nicely, perhaps by inventing some reason he didn't want to go to Hogwarts, they could probably get him an invitation. But there wasn't really any point in doing that. Harry certainly hadn't learned everything that school had to teach him, but being older wasn't going to make him a more motivated student; he probably wasn't going to get anything more out of school the second time around than he had the first time. The only point in going to Hogwarts at all was so that he'd be on hand to avert whatever catastrophes would inevitably take place. And secondarily to re-acquaint himself with all the people he liked, he supposed,but honestly the save-the-world-or-at-least-the-school thing was probably more important, he could always find excuses to introduce himself to people after they'd graduated if he had to.
Maybe he could get a Hogwarts letter for Adrian Murphy?
No, that wouldn't work. He wouldn't be able to fool the Magic Quill. Beauxbatons might even have an analogous system, come to think of it; he'd never asked Fleur. He vaguely recalled Viktor telling him about Durmstrang's entrance exam, but he didn't actually have any idea how the French decided who could go to their school. So that idea was probably out.
... Did he need to fool the Magic Quill? No one had ever actually asked Harry for his acceptance letter at any point during the train ride. He knew where Platform Nine and Three-Quarters was, he could just show up and be all 'hi, I'm Adrian, I'm Muggleborn' and no one would - no, wait. He wouldn't be on McGonagall's list. He'd just end up standing there awkwardly at the end of the Sorting, his false name having never been called. "No, that won't work," he grumbled, and then winced when Mad-Eye made an amused noise.
"Still trying to figure out how to convince me you're five?" laughed the old Auror.
"No, I'm kind of past that point," said Harry honestly. "I'm not actually five years old and there clearly exists no evidence that will convince you otherwise." There was, of course, always the possibility of trying to convince Mad-Eye and Dumbledore that he was really Harry Potter by telling them the truth, i.e. by explaining that he had mysteriously time-traveled from twenty years in the future into the body of his five-year-old self. Unfortunately he wasn't sure they'd even believe him. The standard way time travelers in stories convinced their old friends to trust them was to produce information that they couldn't possibly have gotten except by being told it, sometime in the future, but that wouldn't work here. If Harry said something like I know about the Deathly Hallows Dumbledore would probably assume he'd been Legilimensed, because Voldemort was supposed to be one of the greatest Legilimenses who ever lived in Britain.
Information security was much weirder when mind-reading existed.
"So what are you trying to do, then?" wondered Mad-Eye, now tracing runes into Harry's shield and making disgruntled faces at it. Harry was profoundly grateful that there did not exist a way to communicate precise Apparition coordinates via Patronus, and also that no one had invented mobile phones yet; Mad-Eye would not be able to summon anyone else to their location without physically going and getting them, and that would give Harry enough time to run. In particular, this meant that Dumbledore was not going to materialize and ruin Harry's day. The shield he was using was, he was pretty sure, unbreakable by the methods of 1986 and would probably remain so until it was invented in 2004, but the Elder Wand was a power amplifier. In Dumbledore's hands, it might actually be able to overload the shield with brute force. And then Harry would end up either dead, locked in Azkaban, or Obliviated until he was five again, and a great many people would die.
"Um, basically I'm trying to figure out how to prevent a really large number of people from dying," said Harry.
Mad-Eye paused for a moment, and gave him a puzzled, querying look.
" ... basically if you guys continue thinking I'm Voldemort it's going to be really difficult for me to prevent the actual Voldemort from ruining everything," Harry explained. "Since, as you seem to have realized, he is not in fact dead."
The very slow, careful way in which Mad-Eye responded to this suggested that he'd either concluded Harry was actually insane, or he'd decided to play along in hopes of getting useful information. "In what way," the Auror asked, "is ... Voldemort who is not you ... going to try to 'ruin everything', precisely?"
Harry took a long moment to phrase his answer in a way that would not make certainty based on future knowledge sound like certainty based on self-prediction. "Voldemort is extremely unpredictable at the best of times," he said, "but the possible catastrophe modes I am imagining include, for instance, him taking over the government and making it illegal to be Muggleborn, or him taking over Hogwarts and making children fight to the death for his amusement, or him rounding up all the Muggleborns in the country and using them as fuel for some kind of really horrifying blood magic ritual, or," he tried to think of something else, and failed, "or, I don't know, I am not really that creative, I just know it'd be really bad."
"We did win the last war, you know," said Mad-Eye somewhat irritably. "We're not just going to let you - we're not just going to let Voldemort take over our government."
"You realize you won because I mysteriously defeated him by being Magical Superbaby, right?" pointed out Harry dryly. "Not because anyone in the Ministry outside the Auror Corps is competent at anything."
"Alternatively, you noticed you were losing and faked your death by setting your body on fire and possessing a small child," suggested Mad-Eye, abandoning the effort of not referring to Harry as if he were the Dark Lord. "Babies do not magically defeat powerful dark wizards by the power of Dramatic Resonance, not in real life."
Okay, as much as that was a really good point -
"Have you, by chance, ever met my mother?"
"Why on Earth would I - oh, you mean Lily Evans," said Mad-Eye. He evidently was having the same problem with the pronouns as Harry was, except in precise reverse. "Evans was a good kid. Too good for Potter and Black, but they knew it, what more can you ask. Very talented witch, you murdered her in cold blood and then possessed her son, are we going somewhere with this?"
"I," said Harry, "did not actually do anything to defeat Voldemort. All I did was exist, and my mother, the brightest witch of her age, defeated Voldemort at the cost of her own life, in order to protect me. And then, of course, when they found everyone in the house dead except me, everyone assumed that something very mysterious and dramatically resonant had happened, because no one wanted to admit that a Muggleborn witch could have defeated the Dark Lord. That happens in real life all the time, Auror Moody."
There was a long silence.
"You're surprisingly good at not using the word 'Mudblood'," observed Mad-Eye, rather quietly. He'd stopped trying to break Harry's shield, possibly because he'd run out of things to try. Possibly because he'd just realized it was possible he hadn't thought of everything.
"Of course I am, my mother and my best friend are Muggleborn, I would never," said Harry. He rubbed his temples. "Look. I'm not five years old. You know I'm not five years old. It's blindingly obvious that I'm not five years old. But I am Harry Potter and I'm not possessed by Voldemort and I don't mean you any harm," he said. "If I told you what actually happened to me you'd think I was insane, but mainly I'm considering the information classified not because of that but because Voldemort is smarter than me. If he found out this thing was possible, I'm concerned he might be able to figure out how to reproduce the effect, and I cannot possibly overstate how bad that would be. So I'm working under as much conservation of information as is possible, and I'm going to continue to do that. If you try to find out by force I will Obliviate myself, and I am not very good at Obliviation, so I will probably just end up actually five years old and then a lot of people will die because I didn't save them, so please don't do that."
There was another rather prolonged silence.
Mad-Eye said, curiously, " ... your best friend?"
"Classified," snapped Harry, who had exactly no desire to see Hermione hunted down and questioned by the Aurors.
Mad-Eye's eyebrows rose. "Uh-huh. And what's the deal with Black?"
"Entirely innocent," said Harry, "and technically not even a criminal, Barty Crouch never actually charged him with anything or had a trial."
"Uh-huh," said Mad-Eye again, rolling his eyes (different directions), "so you expect us to just take him right back and give him a badge and trust him with our secrets so that someone else can die like the Potters and the Longbottoms and the Boneses, right?" His voice was very bitter. Harry thought it was interesting that he'd included the Longbottoms, who were technically not dead. Although of course they were nonexistent for all practical purposes, aside from making Neville's life really depressing, so it was reasonable to consider them to be just as dead as Harry's parents. Harry was suddenly extremely curious what would happen if he located the Resurrection Stone and asked it to bring him the shades of Frank and Alice Longbottom. He made a mental note to try that and then went back to the question at hand. Paranoid Auror saying sarcastic things about how ineffective his attempt to ingratiate his spy into the Auror Corps was.
"Um," said Harry, "no?"
"No?" inquired Mad-Eye. "No, he's not a spy? How do you propose to convince me of that?"
"No, I'm not trying to convince you to take Sirius back," Harry clarified. "You can't have him, I need him."
Scarred eyebrows twitched. "Really," said Mad-Eye. "You need him? What for?"
"Aside from that fact that he's my godfather and I need someone to practice duelling with?" offered Harry. "He's an actual adult. I am, legally, a minor and it's somewhat difficult to do certain things because of that."
"That," said Mad-Eye rather dryly, "is what legal guardians are for."
"Did I mention he's my godfather?" repeated Harry pointedly.
"Why," asked Mad-Eye, abruptly, "are you even still here? I cannot break your shield, you could have finished your anti-trackers and been gone some time ago."
That was also a really good question. Harry considered it. "Because," he said, "you're a genuinely good person and it makes me really uncomfortable to know that you think I'm evil. So I'm kind of holding out hope that I can convince you I'm not."
The old Auror sighed heavily. "Against my better judgment," he said, "I do actually almost believe you're telling me the truth. I don't know what you want from me if that's the case. I cannot let you go; you broke a man out of Azkaban, stole two of my finest Aurors' wands, and nailed a death threat and a person to my office wall."
"Can't I plead ignorance because I'm, you know, technically a small child?" said Harry, unable to help his flippant curiosity. "Surely you can't charge me as an adult?"
There were a few beats of silence, and then Mad-Eye burst out laughing.
Chapter 12: Absolutely Nothing Has Gone Wrong Here
"Alright, alright, you win," said Mad-Eye, mirth still audible in his voice, "you win, you're clearly Lily's son. Go on, wreak havoc, confuse Death Eaters, inconvenience You-Know-Who with my sincerest blessing. Keep Black away from us, though, he's an adult and I'm still having him arrested on sight."
Wait, thought Harry.
They couldn't pin Sirius with murdering Peter Pettigrew, even if Peter Pettigrew somehow managed to convincingly play the victim, because Peter was not in fact dead. There'd been twelve other people there, of course, but Muggles kind of only theoretically counted as people, because the magical legal system was amazingly racist. They'd have a better time getting a 'causing a disturbance' or 'doing magic in front of Muggles' charge to stick, when a wizard judge would usually figure that dead Muggles weren't murder victims so much as collateral damage. They'd sure plastered "killed thirteen people!" all over the newspapers in 1993, but in Harry's experience the wizarding community at large had had to be dragged kicking and screaming into treating Muggles in general as human beings and not just haphazardly giving half an exception to the parents of Muggleborns and sometimes using them as rhetorical devices. So without a dead wizard, a trial would likely not make much progress on murder charges. And Sirius' supposed betrayal of the Potters wouldn't count, either; Fidelius Charms were a specific exception to the 'accessory to murder' rule, since 99.9% of the time there were extenuating circumstances and it had been generally agreed, in a brief moment of sanity in the Wizengamot, that it was not acceptable to jail people for breaking under torture. So ... "Arrested for what, exactly," Harry had to ask, although he couldn't stop himself from grinning widely. You're clearly Lily's son. He was going to etch that into his memory and keep it forever.
"Breaking out of Azkaban, obviously," smirked Mad-Eye smugly. "If you can't be held responsible for it, then it had to have been his fault, hadn't it?"
A-ha. "Is that even technically a crime?" wondered Harry. "Nobody's ever done it before."
Mad-Eye paused, tilted his head thoughtfully. "You know," he said, "I'm not sure. I'll have to look it up. But the point stands, nobody's gonna let us get him exonerated after this media circus, not for a long while. I know perfectly well he didn't kidnap you, but a jury could easily be convinced he did, Time-Turners exist. What are you going to do for the next - when do you turn eleven - anyway?"
"July of ninety-one," supplied Harry. "Five and a half years, give or take. I mean, my goal is to fix the thing where Voldemort is a completely inadequate amount of dead," Mad-Eye snorted at that, "but I suspect it will take longer than that. In the meantime I will probably find some way to make life annoying and possibly slightly surreal for the Death Eaters. And then I will presumably do the same for Hogwarts, although in the case of the school it'll be less 'annoying' and more 'surreal', I expect."
"I see," said Mad-Eye. He still looked amused. "I don't suppose you're actually James Potter possessing the Boy-Who-Lived."
"No? Yes? Do I win a cookie?" smirked Mad-Eye. "If you are James, Lily's clearly been a very good influence on you and I approve."
" ... no, I'm not my dad," said Harry, "but I am definitely taking that as a compliment. Hey, do you happen to know where Remus Lupin lives?"
To his credit, Mad-Eye did not seem even slightly disoriented by this apparent non sequitur, or disappointed in his incorrect guess. "I'm fairly certain he doesn't have a permanent residence, actually. If I happen to run into him I'll tell him you asked."
"Okay, thank you," said Harry, nodding appreciatively. "On that friendly note, I think we're done here. Let me know if you need anything I can do without compromising my information security. Our wards reject unauthorized owl post, but you should be able to send me a Patronus message if you need to. For future reference, my Patronus looks like," Teddy laughing, expecto patronum, "this."
Mad-Eye gave silvery Prongs a bemused, critical look. "You should have started with that," he said frankly.
"It looks exactly like James' Patronus. I would be hard-pressed to believe the Dark Lord could cast a Patronus Charm that convincingly resembled your father's," explained Mad-Eye. "Or one at all, for that matter. You should have started the argument with that, it would have been much shorter. Not nonexistent," he shrugged, unapologetic, "but shorter."
"That," said Harry, "honestly did not occur to me." It really hadn't; he had always simply assumed that the shape of his Patronus was meaningless to anyone who had not seen his father's Animagus form. But given that Remus' Patronus was a wolf and Sirius' Patronus was a dog exactly like Padfoot, in retrospect it had probably been silly of him not to realize that Prongs would also be recognizable as his father's Patronus. Which, of course, most or all of the old Order would have been familiar with, since it was their primary method of secure communication.
"Definitely James' son," laughed Mad-Eye. With a wave of his wand he produced a silvery-white ferret. "This is mine. Dumbledore's is a phoenix. Proudfoot's a raven and Savage is a Jarvey. Last time I checked, anyway, and I check every week."
These were known facts to Harry, but he nodded anyway. This wasn't classified information - you couldn't fake a Patronus even if you knew exactly what you were meant to be faking - but he still appreciated the trust implied by Mad-Eye sharing it. "Good to know, thank you. I will endeavor not to further interrupt your life with death threats or Death Eaters." He finally drew out the anti-tracking charms he'd been putting off with this conversation, then. They might be on better terms now, but Mad-Eye had as good as told him that Sirius was still on the hit list, and Harry didn't particularly feel like being followed home. So he spent the time - not that long, if you weren't in the middle of being shot at - and then waved a friendly wave at Mad-Eye, said, "Bye!", and Disapparated for home.
(Well, not quite. He took a few extra stops, a few random places around the country, to stack a few more anti-tracking charms and Disapparate again. As previously noted, you just do not mess around when Alastor Moody is involved. But he did eventually go home.)
Sirius turned up about fifteen minutes after Harry did, looking rather disgruntled.
"You look cheerful," he observed. Harry hadn't been able to stop grinning since he returned. Mad-Eye had, at least half-seriously, considered the idea that Harry was actually James; Harry was absolutely taking that as a high compliment, right along with you are clearly Lily's son. And, more importantly, he'd (unless Mad-Eye was lying) successfully convinced the most paranoid Auror ever that he was not actually evil. That meant he was probably not in danger of not getting to go to Hogwarts. He would get to see the castle again. It was, for all practical purposes, his childhood home; he had known the pain of living a year where it was too dangerous to go to Hogwarts, when he slept in a tent and argued with his friends and had nowhere to go that was home. He had a place now where he was safe, the home with Sirius as his guardian that he had always wanted as a child, but all the same there was something very deeply soothing about knowing that the gates of Hogwarts would be open to him.
Sirius was not smiling. "You don't look cheerful," Harry replied uneasily.
"Well," said Sirius, tossing Harry the key to the Potter vault at Gringotts, "the good news is that Dumbledore didn't catch me." He reached into his jacket's inside pocket, which was Undetectably Extended, and produced Harry's Invisibility Cloak. Harry had to take a long moment of hugging the shimmery, dark fabric tightly - warmth and safety and family - before he looked back up at his godfather, who had dropped heavily onto the couch, rubbing his temples.
"What's the bad news?"
Sirius sighed. "The bad news is I couldn't find the Diadem."
Harry was taken aback. "You couldn't find it?" he repeated, slightly incredulous.
"Wasn't there," said Sirius, making a helpless gesture. "Neither was the Vanishing Cabinet you mentioned, but I found the statue, I'm pretty sure. I tried Summoning it, too. No dice."
Well, that wasn't good. "I really really hope you're just inexplicably blind and I'll find it when I look," said Harry uneasily, settling anxiously into an armchair and leaning on his hands thoughtfully. The Cloak settled across his lap, under his elbows; this probably looked really strange from an outside view, but months without his only real connection to his parents was too long; he wasn't at all willing to let go of it just yet. "That's three now that we don't have any idea how to find. And I'm almost positive that when I found the Diadem, it'd been there since the fifties or something, whenever it was that Tom applied for a job the second time. If it's really not there right now, that would imply that someone moved it, either as a result of something I did differently, or - "
Talk about your painful realizations.
"I am going to be really scared if this turns out to mean I have a time-travelling enemy," Harry said.
"That seems unlikely, doesn't it?" said Sirius dubiously.
Well, obviously yes, but magic existed. "I mean, not more unlikely than me accidentally time travelling in the first place," pointed out Harry. "Probably." After all, he was the Master of Death, that did make him technically unique. Although seeing as he had gone to a lot of effort to prevent this becoming common knowledge, it was theoretically possible that somewhere in history someone else had managed it and then just not told anyone. Somewhere in the 'nobody has any clue who's got the Elder Wand' period, presumably. But at any rate it certainly made Harry unique within a few generations. So maybe it would make more sense for it to just be him. "But what else could it be?"
"There was an extremely obvious Azkaban breakout, even if the Prophet seems to have somehow failed to notice you were involved," offered Sirius. "The Death Eaters know I wasn't one of them, or at least the smart ones do, and the dumb ones are the ones that ended up in jail - "
"Oh," said Harry, interrupting him.
Sirius blinked. "What?"
"I just figured out why the Prophet reported me kidnapped instead of reporting me as responsible for the breakout," Harry explained. "They didn't not notice, they just figured you were an easier target than the legendary Boy-Who-Lived, especially since I'm a little kid right now. I'm so used to the Prophet using me as a punching bag that I forgot that it's not the editor that has a grudge against me, it was Fudge. You, on the other hand, ostensibly are a Death Eater, and we already know they don't care about accuracy."
"Ah," said Sirius. "Right. Sure. Okay. Anyway, as I was saying, Lucius Malfoy knows I wasn't on his side, and it's possible he knew about the Horcruxes since he has one, right? Maybe he somehow guessed that was my goal and he got there first. We did wait several months."
Considering that was a headache. "I guess it's possible," allowed Harry, frowning, "but I really don't know how he could have figured that out. And Draco was working on the Vanishing Cabinet for months, if Lucius knew there was a Horcrux in the Room of Requirement it seems like something should have happened there ... " he sighed. "But I don't have a better answer."
Sirius shrugged. "We'll figure it out. Improvisation is the Marauder standby. So how'd your thing go?"
"Well, uh, I nailed Wormtail to a wall and then Mad-Eye chased me into the Forest of Dean and flung me into a tree and yelled at me a lot," summarized Harry. Sirius raised dark eyebrows at him, as if to say, and this made you happy why?, and Harry snorted. "I also eventually convinced him I'm not Voldemort. You're still gonna get arrested on sight but I'm probably not." He paused. "Which means the Prophet is probably going to continue reporting that you kidnapped me, actually, Mad-Eye told me he doesn't think he could convince them or the Wizengamot that you aren't a Death Eater. Damn, that's going to be weird."
"What, casually showing up at school for your first year and having everyone think you're a kidnap victim?" said Sirius. "Surely you've done weirder things."
"I mean, yes," admitted Harry, who honestly could not deny that his life was very strange at all times, "but still. Molly will be absolutely beside herself with concern - hey, did you know that's a real thing?"
"What?" said Sirius. "What's a real thing? Molly Weasley being really concerned about things? That should go without saying."
"No, no, the idiom. I found out my second year in Auror training, 'beside themself' is a turn of phrase based on an actual thing that happens to magical adults," said Harry, grinning. "It's the funniest shit I've ever seen, some kind of weird magical heart disease, they duplicate themselves and almost invariably start arguing. About as rare as Muggles spontaneously combusting, though."
"Uh," said Sirius, who had been giving him the now-familiar fascinated look that said I probably used to know that and then forgot about it, until Harry got to the bit about Muggles, whereupon his eyebrows rose in surprise. "Harry, you know Muggles don't actually spontaneously combust and the small number of documented cases are all assassinations by wizards, right?"
" ... I did not know that," said Harry. "Hermione uses that statistic sometimes, it's accepted fact among Muggles that people just very rarely catch fire for no reason." There were even existing explanations for it, like probably it was really hot and dry out and are you sure there wasn't any gasoline nearby? and so on. Although, on reflection, when you knew that magic existed, this was kind of an obvious explanation. Still ... "How do you know that?"
Sirius winced. "There's, um, there's a wizarding children's book called Stupid Things Muggles Think with a bunch of 'fun facts' like that," he made air quotes with his fingers when saying fun facts, "and, you know, cute little cartoons of for instance Muggles catching fire and caricatures of Muggle doctors with little question marks over their heads?"
"That is both adorable and terrifying," observed Harry.
Over the next several months they made lists of known and suspected Death Eaters (depressingly short, especially after you took out all the ones that were in Azkaban already), and argued about what the appropriate approach was. Some of these people needed to be destroyed wholesale (the Carrow twins); some of them really just needed to be gently nudged away from evil (Narcissa Malfoy), some of them weren't Death Eaters yet but were still awful (Dolores Umbridge); and most of them probably didn't actually deserve to die but definitely deserved to have their lives made weird and difficult. Although it was ostensibly the Most Important Thing to get the diary away from Lucius Malfoy, they ended up deciding it probably wasn't the most pressing thing. Either Lucius was behaving in unexpected ways, in which case they ought to get more information before trying anything that involved breaking into his house, or he wasn't, in which case they didn't need to worry about the diary until Harry's second year at school. So eventually there would be heroism, but first, really, there would be some Marauding.
The first problem they ran into, of course, was that with the exception of the Malfoys (in whose home Harry had briefly been imprisoned) and the Lestranges (with whom Sirius had had to socialize when he was a child), they didn't actually have any fraction of a clue where any of the people on their list lived. And the closest thing the wizarding world had to a phone book was the Floo system list, which didn't help because it didn't have actual physical addresses on it, just official descriptors. For instance, if they looked up the Notts, the record would just helpfully tell them that the ancestral home of the Nott family was called Nachtwald, or Nottswood if you were feeling particularly unsanguine about your ability to correctly pronounce German words to the level of accuracy required by Floo travel.
"We're going to have to figure out how to break into people's houses via Floo, aren't we," said Harry, with a sigh.
"Yep," said Sirius.
"You ever done that before?"
"Probably," said Sirius, shrugging artfully.
" ... can you remember doing it?" clarified Harry.
Sirius grinned his don't worry we'll just improvise grin. "Nope."
Harry spent time with Hermione whenever he got a chance. This was mostly a swimming-pools-and-ice-cream sort of friendship, because they were ostensibly six and seven, but sometimes he tagged along to visit the community library, or got hold of approximately grade-level practice books so that they could "do homework" together. He noticed Hermione's parents talking to one another in French, and was reminded in mild surprise that Hermione had spent so much time in France as a child that she'd been fluent by the time she met Fleur. So he asked, playing the curious child, one day over post-swimming-pool lunch, "Are your parents French?"
"Yeah, Mum and Dad moved here from France before I was born," said Hermione brightly.
"Oh, neat. I have some relatives in France," said Harry cheerily. He expected Fleur would eventually want to visit her 'British cousin', and it would be good not to have everyone be totally caught off guard by the event. Although he wasn't sure if he or Sirius might have at some point said something that contradicted a claim that the fictional dead Evelyn Murphy was a French national. "I think my mum's family moved before she was born 'cause they liked the schools here better," was the explanation he settled on. He looked at Hermione's father, who was checking the cooling status of a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies. "How come you guys moved?"
"Egregious racism and anti-Semitism among our neighbors," said Mr. Dr. Granger easily, shrugging. "Most French natives are perfectly pleasant people, but we had a few experiences that rather soured us on the country. Cookies are done, would you like one, Adrian?"
Well, that explained a lot about Hermione Granger, didn't it. Harry was beginning to sense he'd missed a lot of things about his sister-in-law's childhood, simply because she'd chosen not to mention them. Like being made fun of in primary school for her hair and her teeth and her books and her Shakespearean name, and learning to speak louder and louder so that people would hear her. Like a childhood of visiting the place her parents had grown up and never staying, not quite belonging. She must have read everything there was to know about wizarding history just so she could go to Hogwarts and not feel like an outsider, and it had happened anyway.
No wonder she'd been miserable, that first two months of first year.
(No wonder she'd known about Polyjuice, the potion meant for pretending you belonged. No wonder she'd been more interested in that than Christmas.)
There wasn't much Harry could do about all that, but he could be her friend, at least.
And that did seem to be helping, doing what Harry remembered happening over the course of his first few years at school. Hermione was getting better at modulating her volume, now that someone listened when she talked (though there remained ear-splitting shrieks when she was excited). She was getting calmer, having someone ostensibly her age who seemed to genuinely want her around. Harry was glad he could do some good there. Already Hermione was more like the Hermione he remembered, for all that she was seven years old. He wasn't that good at pretending to be a little kid, and 'Adrian' was probably working through elementary schoolwork more quickly than any child should be capable of. Harry wasn't quite inclined to stop, though, because so far the Doctors Granger hadn't noticed anything strange, merely complimented Sirius occasionally on his 'precocious' child. And because he suspected that by managing to outdo Hermione at intellectual pursuits, he was providing a motivational goal, which Hermione - always the smartest person in the room - had never had before. At this rate she'd have her GCSEs done before she got her Hogwarts letter.
Now he'd just have to see how fast he could get Ron to be his Ron instead of the sheltered, tactless idiot he'd befriended in first year. (He missed his Ron, his brother, his deputy, his shield, his oldest and dearest friend. The eleven-year-old boy who thought his scar was wicked cool and all Slytherins were the scum of the Earth, who had seen himself in the Mirror of Erised, because his greatest fear was to be overshadowed - that boy wasn't going to hold a candle to the man who had fought a war with Harry and Hermione. Ron had grown so much in seven years. Hermione had mostly simply relaxed, acquired knowledge and friends and confidence, learned to choose her battles and fight them with ruthless effectiveness. She had always been essentially the same person, which was why Harry had gone to the young version of her to find familiarity. Ron would not be familiar at all, and Harry was not really looking forward to it.)
Fleur, on the other hand, continued to be a tiny blonde bundle of reckless enthusiasm, whenever Harry found time to visit her (once every few weeks, usually). She always wanted to go flying, which he was delighted to participate in, and even on foot she raced around at a speed he was hard-pressed to keep up with when his legs were shorter than hers. Sometimes she crashed headlong into things, giggling all the while, and probably only managed not to get injured by virtue of being nine years old and magic. And then ten years old and magic, and still flying too fast and still crashing into things. Not yet did the quarter-Veela girl show any signs of being the cautious, unfriendly person he had met when he was fourteen and she was seventeen.
Harry was kind of concerned about it.
Chapter 13: This Is A Perfectly Reasonable Approach
Hermione told Harry, around January, that she'd gotten her parents to sign her up for aikido lessons. She seemed quite enthused about the idea, to his poorly-disguised alarm. "Don't worry," she said brightly, "it's only twice a week, we can still go swimming other days!"
It took some effort for Harry to force his face into the expression appropriate for a relieved six-year-old who'd been afraid of not getting to see his best friend as much. That was not his concern, but there was really no reasonable way to explain to a seven-year-old Hermione Granger why the news of her deciding to take martial arts lessons was slightly alarming. It was a perfectly reasonable thing for a kid to want to do, especially a kid who spent so much time being bullied at school. But Harry was about 99% sure that his Hermione had never done any such thing. Marriage or no, she wasn't a Weasley, and physical violence was not her usual preferred method of solving problems, especially not problems that could be set on fire. ... Although there was that one time she'd punched Draco in the face, he supposed. "Hey, aikido wouldn't happen to involve punching people in the face a lot, would it?" he asked Sirius later that day, as they were eating dinner.
"Um," said Sirius, blinking at him. "No? It's all throws and subdual stuff, the whole point is not punching people. I signed up for an aikido class with Prongs the summer after third year to piss off my dad and ended up hating it, we were amazingly bad at not punching people. Why?"
Harry sighed. There went that idea. He explained his concern. "And if that's not what it is then Hermione probably did not do that the first time. What did I do?"
Sirius made an interesting face, eyebrows contracting with thoughtful confusion and conflicting with his dismissive shrug. "Weird. Maybe you just radiate a sense of imminent danger. You do twitch when people make sudden movements, she might be interpreting that as meaning you need protecting?" he offered. "It's probably not a big deal. It's not like you aren't a danger magnet."
"True," admitted Harry. He was a danger magnet. He'd been in the past for mere months and he'd already gotten into three separate fights with Aurors. It was probably horribly irresponsible of him to even try to make friends with Hermione, when he had so much more experience than she did, but he was selfish. And he needed Hermione. He would be very, extremely dead without her. He'd end up a nervous lonely wreck without the Weasleys, his life was hugely improved by Ginny and Ron and the rest of their family, but he'd probably at least still be alive. He could get along without them, if it would make life better for them.
There was a pause. Sirius scrutinized him with a frown. Harry fidgeted under his gaze and tried to think of an excuse to go do something else. Maybe go do more Polyjuice duelling practice, last week they'd finally (after a number of failed attempts) managed to brew Polyjuice without ruining it -
Then Sirius, in a tone of sudden enlightenment, said, "That's why you keep changing the subject when I try to ask you what you're going to do about Ginny," and then crossed his arms. Harry winced as the expression of puzzled curiosity transmuted abruptly into sharp, pointed judgment. It was a little muted, coming from the invented face of Michael Murphy whose features were a little rounder and smoother and less intimidating than Sirius Black's, but still not terribly pleasant. "C'mon. Really?" said Sirius. "The girl ran an entire anti-Snape resistance movement, and for that matter married you, she obviously copes fine with danger."
"That's not it," protested Harry, somewhat uncomfortably.
"Really. Are you sure you're not doing the stupid hero I-am-too-dangerous-for-my-loved-ones thing?" said Sirius dubiously. "Because that sure sounds like what you're doing."
"I just don't want to think about it," Harry admitted, rather despairingly. "I have no idea what's going on, I know nothing about time travel. Last time I checked nobody really knows anything about time travel, until Hermione does a bunch of research in, like, twenty years, because you guys just had a war and most of the Department of Mysteries got murdered. Director Greengrass is competent but - "
"Director Greengrass," interrupted Sirius. "Ed Greengrass?"
"Yeah, I guess he probably isn't actually the director yet," shrugged Harry helplessly, "I don't know who he replaced, nobody tells me anything. Anyway he's good at his job but his research is mostly astronomical, he practically lives in the Planets Room. I'm pretty sure the existing expert on Time is Rookwood."
" ... Ed Greengrass is the Director of the Department of Mysteries," said Sirius, clearly still stuck on this. "Or will be within the next ten or twenty years, whichever. Merlin, no bloody wonder we couldn't figure out what the fuck he was doing with his life. I think I probably owe Alice Longbottom five Galleons." He shook his head. "Moving on - right, okay, you have no idea how to travel to the future, what's your point?"
"We've noticeably changed things," said Harry. "Pretty much the only thing I know about time travel is that usually the rule is 'you can't change the past.' Also there's some sort of safe distance limit which I've almost definitely exceeded, but whatever. Anyway," he sighed, "the obvious conclusion is that the world has actually somehow been rewound, we aren't creating paradoxes because the future I remember no longer exists. Which means my Ginny is much, much more dead than my parents, and unlike Ron and Hermione, I probably can't make her exist again without visiting horrible trauma upon an eleven-year-old. And I would rather not think about that if that's okay with you."
Somewhat wide-eyed, Sirius nodded. "I mean," his voice went quiet and apologetic, "you're going to have to deal with that at some point, you know, because the kid version of her exists?"
And probably thinks I'm a legend to point and stare at. "Yeah," sighed Harry, "I know. But not yet, okay?"
On the third of March, 1987, the Yaxleys' duelling club convened for its first meeting of the month.
Hidden in an apparently-abandoned barn in Suffolk, at the moment, this was a loosely-organized competitive event that took place twice weekly, didn't enforce its no-lethal-spells rules particularly well, and was very, extremely illegal. But the Yaxleys kept it running, because they made most of their money on it, and they simply moved it every time the Aurors found them. Every hour they collected entry fees for everyone who wanted to fight (usually on the order of a Galleon), set up a bracket, and the winner got half the money, the house got the other half. Other people just showed up to place bets, or to watch the fights. It was one of the best ways, if you weren't born into a noble wizarding family, to get their attention; Garrett Goyle had earned his place as one of Lucius Malfoy's bodyguards by doing very well here in the late eighties, for instance.
It was also one of the best ways, Sirius explained with a grin as he and Harry got ready to show up for it, to (a) find out exactly what the unsavory parts of wizarding Britain were doing with their lives, (b) stalk them home if necessary, and (c) have lots of fun kicking the snot out of dumbass wannabe Death Eaters. "Lily and I used to do this all the time," he said cheerfully as he was carefully designing new and entirely different disguises for the purpose. "One time she brewed Felix Felicis and we Polyjuiced into a couple of little kids and drank a dose each. We made a couple thousand Galleons and found out where the Selwyns were holed up. Speaking of which, are you sure you wanna pretend to be an adult?"
"Quite sure," said Harry, who was currently in the process of re-acclimating to having longer legs. He'd been practicing this for weeks, but he still needed a little time to transition. "One disguise we can get away with. Several sets of imaginary people who happen to be a relatively young single guy and a little boy who just happens to be the same age as the Boy-Who-Lived? Eventually someone will get suspicious."
" ... fair point," admitted Sirius.
Harry stretched, checked that his new forearm wand holster was behaving itself, and then thought back a second and gave Sirius a funny look. "Hang on, you and my mum? Not you and my dad?"
"Nah, Prongs wasn't much for subterfuge," said Sirius, shrugging. "Terrible liar, would have ended up trying to duel everyone. He would just stalk us in his Cloak. Which was, let me tell you, really helpful that one time Lily killed a guy. Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Uh," said Harry, who had honestly never considered the idea that his mother was capable of violence. In retrospect, he supposed this had been silly; after all, the sum total of information he had about her, much of it filtered through biased lenses, was (a) she'd been best friends with Severus Snape as a child, (b) she'd gotten excellent grades, (c) she'd fought Voldemort on three separate occasions and survived, (d) she was extremely un-fond of being insulted, (e) she had really, really loved Harry. "I guess I may have had a somewhat inaccurate mental picture of my mother."
"If you're surprised by the idea of her enjoying hexing Death Eaters? Yes," said Sirius, amused. "You should try not to murder anyone, though, since we won't have a Transfiguration master following us around. I do not block Killing Curses nearly as well as he does."
"I bet I do," said Harry cheerfully.
"Yes, but you're cheating outrageously." Sirius tilted his head at the full-length mirror he was standing in front of, frowning. He was now a sort of ruddy tan color, slightly shorter, and had dramatically altered the bone structure of his face, widening his jaw and flattening his nose. He'd turned his eyes an unremarkable brown, and made his eyebrows bushier and his hair shorter. Transfiguring himself every morning into Michael Murphy had improved his human Transfiguration by leaps and bounds, and since he strongly associated the subject with James, Harry was pretty sure it had also been helping him get his memories together. It was an impressive job. Sirius still looked a little displeased, though. "I think I might look too much like a Goyle."
Harry gave him a critical look, feeling a strong urge to adjust his nonexistent glasses. Polyjuice, unlike human Transfiguration, could change whether you needed glasses, and the stray Muggle neighbor whose hairbrush they'd stolen didn't wear glasses. This was one of the ways in which it was superior, although Harry wasn't looking forward to having to make sure to re-dose every hour. He had a flask in the inside pocket of his jacket, and Sirius had Transfigured him into an innocuous brown-haired kid vaguely resembling his new disguise before he took the Polyjuice, but this still somehow felt hazardous. He reminded himself sternly that Polyjuice Potion wasn't even mentioned in the Potions curriculum until NEWT level, and a randomly-selected group of wizards containing neither Hermione Granger nor Alastor Moody was unlikely to be concerned about checking people for it. Even Dumbledore had failed to notice, although Harry wasn't entirely sure that Ron was wrong in maintaining that there must have been confunding charms involved in Crouch Junior's achievement in impersonating Mad-Eye for a solid eight months. Most people didn't even have access to the recipe (Harry and Sirius only had a copy of Moste Potente Potions because they'd stolen it from Grimmauld Place). "Eh," he said, "a little, but the Goyles are quite a lot bigger than you."
"Mm, fair point," nodded Sirius. "You sure all your reflexes are in the right places?"
They didn't generally duel one another, preferring to use their basement practice room to shoot at moving dummy targets or run dodge drills or similar. It was just not safe, not when in actual fights Harry tended to totally ignore the concept of 'property damage' and ninety-five percent of the hexes Sirius knew were potentially lethal. In fact the need for real practice was, actually, the reason they were doing this in the first place, even though they were rationalizing it to themselves as information gathering. If they were really honest, Harry and Sirius were simply itching to get into a fight. They'd been doing defense and prep work and research for months and neither of them was really suited for that kind of work. "Yeah," said Harry, reasonably confidently. "It feels more natural than fighting in a kid body, at least."
"Alrighty then." Sirius gave his robe pockets a quick pat-down (betting money, wand carefully painted a different color, nothing incriminating) and cracked his knuckles. "Once more, unto the breach!"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Drama queen."
Chapter 14: I Am Concerned About Your House-Elves
They landed on a dusty forest path, just outside a totally uninteresting barn.
Well, it would have been a totally uninteresting barn if there weren't bouncers lurking just outside, anyway.
The bouncers were a Crabbe-and-Goyle, of course, though not one Harry had met; probably they were not very closely related to Draco's or Lucius's sets. You never knew with purebloods, though. Both squinted suspiciously at Harry and Sirius as they approached. The Crabbe actually sniffed, as if he might be able to smell treachery on them. "Who're you?" demanded the Goyle brusquely. Fair question, really; the wizarding world was an insular enough place, especially among the so-called nobility, that merely being unfamiliar-looking rendered them suspicious. "Whatcha want?"
Sirius shrugged, as disarmingly as possible. "Heard this was where to go if you're good at fighting and wanna make some gold," he explained. He sounded strange, to Harry's ears; they'd found a voice distortion charm in a prank book that made them sound German.
"Only if you keep your mouth shut," growled the Crabbe. Harry was sure an ordinary person would be intimidated; he, on the other hand, had to stifle a giggle. "The bosses don't take kindly to idiots who talk when they shouldn't."
"We went to Durmstrang," lied Sirius, because this was their agreed-upon excuse for being unfamiliar, and also the reason they were pretending to be German. "We know how to keep quiet, I assure you."
The Goyle leaned forward slightly. If they had actually been frightened of him, it might have been said that he loomed. "And what's that got to do with it, huh?"
"Tell me," suggested Harry, smiling, "do you know how many students attend Durmstrang Institute every year?"
The guards both frowned at him. "Lots, probably," shrugged Crabbe, "what's your point?"
Harry nodded. "Lots," he agreed, "and have you ever met anyone who will tell you where to find it?"
There was a certain pause.
Because Harry did not have a lot of faith in the collective deductive ability of a standard Crabbe-and-Goyle, he decided to draw the connection aloud. "That's because everyone at Durmstrang knows how to keep secrets," he explained.
"Ah-huh," muttered Goyle. "That makes sense."
"It does, doesn't it?" chirped Sirius brightly. "So who do we give our cover charge to, please?"
"Guy with the books," rumbled Crabbe, as Goyle pulled the heavy doors apart. "Can't miss 'im."
Books? wondered Harry, puzzled. All the same, he and Sirius strode confidently into the strangely persistent shadows beyond the doors. Naturally, someone had put darkness charms on the entrance, so that no one could see in from outside even if the doors were open. Harry was moderately impressed. The shadows actually managed to obscure his vision even in spite of the several augmented vision charms he was using. Even Sirius looked like he couldn't see very well, despite the fact that - having done this sort of thing before and gotten used to walking around with a half dozen extra senses - he was actually carrying a much larger number of observation spells than Harry was.
It took a moment, even at a reasonably brisk pace, for them to pass beyond the shadow, and for the room to come into view. As it did, Harry made an involuntary whistling noise, impressed. The place was huge. He was almost certain, in fact, that it was larger than the actual volume of the building. It also didn't look the slightest bit like a warehouse. It did not even seem to make any particular concessions to the fact that it was hidden and illegal. Everything was bright and open and shiny, white and silver with occasional accents of green or blue. There was a bar over on the left-hand side. It was backed by a wall of bottles and staffed by a pair of house-elves, who were wearing spotlessly clean tea-towels embroidered with crossed blue swords.
In the center of the room, taking up much more attention-space than actual space, was an arena. Steps led up to a raised white stone surface at about head level, making it easy for everyone in the room to see what was happening atop it. There were no apparent rails or walls. When Harry and Sirius came in, a stocky dark-skinned woman with dramatically green hair was politely offering a dragonhide-gloved hand to her erstwhile opponent, a pale blond teenager with nearly a foot of height on her, who had a bloody nose, a tailored green-and-silver duelling tunic, and a rather dramatic pout. Floating red text, about fifteen feet above the arena surface, indicated helpfully that AZRA SHAFIQ had DEFEATED ANTONY ROWLE in 0:00:55 (presumably, fifty-five seconds).
Various purebloods milled about, many holding drinks. Most were wearing sweeping, voluminous robes and cloaks in various bright colors; Sirius had explained that, since cooling charms existed, the wizarding elite had developed a fashion sense which typically involved showing off your wealth by wearing as many different heavy, expensive fabrics as you could manage. Not everyone was dressed that way, however - many of those present, naturally, were dressed to duel. Duelling attire varied widely even among professionals, and there was even more variance here, but there were some common features that made it possible to identify them from spectators. Although some duelists liked flashy, decorative things like jeweled fabrics and feathers, and some preferred darker, dramatic leathers and hides, no one was wearing a cloak or hat or hood. Most were wearing trousers of some kind. Some had elaborate belts covered with trailing fabric or braided material, which approximated the skirt-like silhouette of robes without so dramatically impeding movement; some were wearing almost medieval tunics or surcoats. Many were wearing soft flexible shoes or heavy metal-toed boots, and a few were barefoot. Harry spotted Fenrir Greyback, enormous and scarred, lurking by the bar wearing nothing but knee-length trousers which he suspected - although he couldn't tell from this distance - were made of dragonhide.
He could find a few others who were dressed approximately the way he and Sirius were, which Sirius had described as "The new kids' standard budget duelling outfit": ordinary robes separated along the sides for ease of movement, often with the sleeves cut off, over often ill-fitting trousers. They'd kept their sleeves, because it felt strange to wear a wand holster without them, but made sure to wear clothes that fit.
"It's shinier than I expected," said Harry, bemused.
Sirius snorted. "Man, you really do not spend a lot of your time around purebloods, do you?"
"I really do not," agreed Harry. "So ... uh ... guy with books? Do you know what he - oh." Halfway through the question, Harry had realized how extremely accurate it been for Goyle to say can't miss him. As soon as his instinctive visual sweep of the room had covered everyone in it, he saw the obvious referent of this statement. It was blindingly obvious. A tall, thin wizard, completely bald and with his snow-white beard shorn viciously short, was leaning against the wall with his hands in the pockets of his plain, severe black robes. His only ornamentation was a heavy pendant, shaped like a crescent moon, which looked as if it were carved entirely out of a single enormous purple gemstone.
He was surrounded by a small flurry of levitating books. A slightly smaller flurry of black quills attended them, some currently scribbling away and others hovering patiently.
"Ah-huh," muttered Harry. "Books. I suppose I should not introduce him to my favorite book nerd."
Sirius shuddered visibly. "No," he said. "No, you absolutely should not." Nevertheless they'd been instructed to talk to him, so Harry led the way toward the mysterious bookkeeper. Sirius explained quietly, as they walked. "That's Jarred Nott. Probably a Death Eater, definitely dangerous. He's extraordinarily wealthy even by pureblood standards, probably compensating for not being one of the Noble Houses. I didn't know he was the bookkeeper for this, but I am not surprised."
A moment later, Harry stopped in front of the cloud of books and said, "Excuse me," as politely as possible. "I was told you were the person to sign up for duels?"
Nott tilted his head very slightly at the pair of them, one sharp grey eyebrow arching curiously. "That is correct. I require your names and five Galleons each."
Harry counted out ten Galleons from his pocket, and held them out. "Alexander Katz," he introduced himself, "and this is my brother Samuel." New names, again; it didn't seem likely that Apolline Delacour knew any of these people well enough to have mentioned her cousins the Murphys, but it was not strictly impossible and so he and Sirius had decided it was better to be paranoid than dead. Nott didn't move, but one of the books floated over and snapped up the gold like it had teeth. Harry blinked bemusedly at this, and then repeated the lie he'd given the bouncers. "Thought we might have some fun testing Durmstrang's duelling lessons against people who went to Hogwarts."
"I see," said Nott, quite neutrally. One of his books chirped, "Alexander Katz and Samuel Katz, recorded!" Another book flipped several pages and presented itself to him, several lines in the schedule highlighted. They'd been scheduled to have their first duels in about fifteen minutes, and to fight again about five minutes later if they won. "If you lose your opponent fights then instead," explained the schedule book brightly, and another added helpfully, "It's double elimination!" They sounded quite like house-elves, which was moderately disconcerting. Harry hoped they were not literally made of Transfigured elves, but he sort of suspected, with an uneasy sense of background horror, that they were.
"Okay," agreed Harry, and he nodded politely at Nott and added "Thank you," mostly to the books-that-were-maybe-elves but plausibly to their owner.
When they'd gotten about fifteen paces away, Sirius reported quietly: "Old Nott's shielded to hell and back, but I think I can get almost anyone else here, if I can stand close enough to them for about that long without having to talk."
That seemed like good news. Harry nodded, and meandered casually into the crowd. Although he would have liked to start immediately going after the most dangerous Death Eaters still outside Azkaban, Sirius had pointed out - rightly, Harry thought - that there was no benefit to doing that. They were vastly outnumbered, for one thing. For another, the Death Eaters weren't actually doing anything at the moment. If Harry and Sirius took some time to practice burglary on less hazardous targets than the Malfoys, it wouldn't get people killed like it would have if there were a war currently ongoing. It helped that most of the most dangerous ones were still in Azkaban - Dolohov, Rookwood, the Lestranges - and so Harry did not need to worry about prioritizing takedowns of people who were likely to do damage even outside of wartime.
Unfortunately, the number of people he knew were Death Eaters was relatively few. Hermione had, reasonably enough, objected to his and Ron's proposed plan of putting the entire wizarding population under Veritaserum and asking them if they'd ever murdered anyone, since Veritaserum was extremely expensive and also it would be a spectacular violation of due process. Even if they'd done that, Harry was sure he'd never have actually remembered the answers. More problematically, though, purebloods were people who had relatives. He knew that ten Death Eaters had been broken out of Azkaban in 1995, but he'd forgotten almost half of their names. He only definitely remembered the ones he'd met - Dolohov, Rookwood, Mulciber, and the Lestranges - and couldn't think who the others might have been. He supposed he could find that information by looking up the prison records, but there was no such record for the Death Eaters who weren't dead or in prison. He could probably recognize Avery on sight, too, the one who'd prostrated himself at Voldemort's feet in the graveyard and begged for forgiveness, but that would require that there was only one - what if there were several Averies, all similar-looking enough, who were brothers or cousins? He didn't know the man's first name, much less the arrangement of his freckles or whatever.
There weren't a great many purebloods - Britain simply wasn't big enough - but there were just enough that this was likely to be a problem around any of the Death Eaters less unique than Lucius Malfoy.
Still, they weren't all indistinguishable or horribly dangerous.
With all this in mind, he drifted in the general direction of Fenrir Greyback.
"Good evening," he said brightly to the first person who made a polite gesture in his general direction, a short, slender man with an enormous shock of black curls who was gesturing expansively as he chattered to the portly wizard standing next to him. The difference between them was striking, and not just because of their difference in stature; where the larger wizard was wearing enormous swathes of dark orange wool and velvet, the smaller one was wearing tight dragonhide trousers and boots and approximately half a dozen belts, all dyed in different bright colors, and the poofiest blue silk shirt Harry had ever seen. He even had glittery paint on his face in matching colors. The resulting combination looked much like an enormous furry peach talking to a butterfly.
(Approximately three feet to their left, just inside convenient range, someone who might be the right Avery was talking to a woman who looked vaguely like Pansy Parkinson.)
The furry peach made a much less friendly face when Harry looked their way. "More foreigners," he complained.
The butterfly's enthusiasm dimmed slightly at that. "I was invited," he sniffed. Harry resisted the urge to squint puzzledly at him; the man's voice sounded familiar, but Harry couldn't place the vaguely Middle-Eastern accent.
Instead, he said cheerfully, "I wasn't! Alexander Katz, pleased to meet you, how'd you get an invitation?"
"Avram Meyer," the duellist introduced himself, holding out a hand to shake, and Harry felt a sudden spark of recognition go off in his head. He'd met this man once before, at Viktor Krum's twenty-fifth birthday party. By then Meyer had retired from his extremely successful professional duelling career and was teaching Battle Magic classes at Durmstrang. Harry vaguely recalled Krum saying that he was the first Jewish professor at the Eastern European school of magic since before Grindelwald's war. "British boy on vacation challenged me to a duel because he didn't like my shoes, lost, and then invited me to this lovely event," continued Meyer, once Harry had shaken his hand. He cast about - spinning more than once around in a circle - and then pointed into the crowd. "That one!"
He was pointing at someone Harry didn't recognize, so Harry shrugged and said, "Cool. Having fun?"
Meyer actually bounced up and down on his toes when he said "I am!", which looked much less strange now than it had when he was fifty. "I am awesome at duelling. Did you just show up?"
"And then explained politely to the bouncers that Durmstrang students know how to keep secrets, yes," agreed Harry. "Who was that?" he added, indicating the large and apparently slightly xenophobic wizard who'd wandered off when Harry joined the conversation.
"Benjamin Selwyn," supplied Sirius helpfully, which - in addition to its actual informative content - told Harry that Sirius was done reading the Apparition traces off of the nearby Avery. "Oh, I'm Sam, by the way," he added, when Meyer gave him a somewhat startled look.
They meandered off, wishing Meyer a polite good-luck on his next fight which was cheerily returned ("Unless you're fighting me, of course!"), shortly thereafter. Harry wanted to introduce himself politely to a sufficient number of people that they could come back again and be remembered positively. Assuming they didn't murder anyone and get banned, anyway. To this end, he went about smiling at people, telling them how he hoped to make interesting British friends and maybe also some gold, and introduced them to his "brother, who zones out thinking about runes a lot, sorry about him, he's really very friendly if you catch him paying attention ..."
They were about halfway across the room when the clock indicated that the next fight up was ALEXANDER KATZ vs. ANDERS ROWLE.
Harry excused himself politely from trying to answer Helen Greengrass's question about the Battle Magic curriculum at Durmstrang, feeling relieved. He had a non-zero amount of information, since he'd talked to Krum about it before and also had listened to at least one Hermione-lecture about the curriculum differences at different wizarding schools including Hogwarts, but he was trying not to give away that he did not have the fidelity of information you'd expect from someone who'd actually gone to Durmstrang. With any luck, Greengrass would keep the realization to herself if she noticed, or try to blackmail him, as opposed to completely blowing his cover in the middle of a large gathering of his enemies. At least the Greengrasses were a reasonably neutral party. She'd probably just demand money or something. He was optimistic.
Harry got into the arena easily enough, with a little tick of Apparition; there were probably stairs around the back of it, but why bother?
This Rowle, a big blonde man who (unlike the teenager Shafiq had been roundly stomping when they arrived) Harry would definitely not have been able to tell apart from the Death Eater one, imitated him, with a much louder crack and an irritated frown. "Don't like show-offs," he grumbled. It sounded louder than it should have. Thorfinn Rowle was probably this guy's cousin, or something?
"Then professional duelling is probably not for you!" replied Harry cheerfully. He could hear the arena bouncing his voice to all corners of the room, too, so that was probably built-in, not just something Rowle was doing. It sounded strange to his ears, because he already didn't sound like himself. Above their heads, a bright red countdown ticked from two digits to one; Harry stretched his arms and drew his wand. "Do I get bonus points if I beat you really fast, is that why there's a timer?" he inquired curiously.
"No," said Rowle, rolling his eyes, "Nott likes to do statistics."
Harry giggled. Rowle gave him a profoundly annoyed look.
The timer ticked to zero, and there was the sound of a bell ringing. The names and the clock turned blue, and the clock began counting forward.
"Stupefy!" shouted Rowle at once, wasting no time trying the easy thing. Harry ducked the red bolt and skittered sideways, still giggling. Statistics about illegal duelling, honestly. He was going to have to steal Nott's records and give them to Hermione as a present, she'd love that. He hummed a stick-fast hex, dodged an Asphyxiation Curse, and grinned when Rowle tried to take a step sideways and couldn't. "You irritating little shit," complained Rowle, twisting around uncomfortably as Harry skipped around his side.
"I try!" replied Harry cheerily. He was probably about to say something else rude, but he keeled over when Harry smacked him in the temple with a stunner.
The bell rang again, and the clock above turned red and stopped at 0:00:32.
Harry pondered, as the arena roused his opponent and shooed them gently offstage via some sort of bizarre space-bending, whether it would be too gauche, given his pretend name, to dress up like the Cheshire Cat.
Chapter 15: A Little Chaos Never Hurt Anybody, Right?
As Harry caught up to Sirius (staring vaguely into space in the general direction of several Parkinsons, a few clumps of people away from Greyback), the arena announced merrily that the next fight was to be AVRAM MEYER vs DAVID TRAVERS. This seemed to Harry to be a bit of a foregone conclusion, even if he was about 80% sure he didn’t know that particular Travers, since Meyer was - or would be? time travel was weird - an incredibly successful professional duellist. So, after a friendly nod in Meyer’s direction, he resumed attempting to socialize.
It was surprisingly difficult not to keep glancing nervously at Greyback, but fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, everyone else in the vicinity seemed to have the same problem.
Harry really missed Ginny, he reflected, as he smiled and complimented someone’s jewelry. His wife had always been better than he was at playing nice with the rich people at Ministry events; she’d had this delightful way of saying not-actually-friendly things in an unimpeachably friendly tone, often to the point that Harry himself wouldn’t even notice. He’d just suddenly realize half an hour later that she’d told the Chief of the Portkey Office his international tax policy was stupid and everyone in the vicinity, including the target of the insult, had nodded cheerfully like she’d given him a compliment. Unfortunately, he did not have this skill, which meant that in order to earn social capital points he had to say actually -nice things, and lying was hard .
“Oh, isn’t he clever,” said someone, as Meyer executed a dramatic twirl, conjured a duplicate of his cape, and sidestepped around Travers’ shoulder, causing a hex intended for him to dissolve the conjuration in a puff of glittery smoke.
“Right? I want to fight him,” agreed Harry, which was not a character-supporting lie even though it worked for the character but rather actually just true. He’d never gotten a chance, the one time they’d met; there had been slightly too many foreign dignitaries at the event for it to be a good idea for the Chief Auror to challenge a foreign schoolteacher to an exhibition duel.
“You will likely get a chance,” observed someone else, an unsettlingly familiar-looking wizard that Harry couldn’t place who had somehow smoothly avoided introducing himself. Harry did not have the social skills to figure out how to re-ask without seeming rude. “It’d be difficult to avoid, at this point.”
He totally had the social skills to smile apologetically and play dumb, though. Having people explain things at him was a great shortcut to having them feel superior and listened-to and to burn time while Sirius pretended not to be casting highly illegal divination charms on everyone. “Oh yeah? I’m not good with maths, how’s that?”
The mystery-familiar wizard rolled his eyes, but one of the others - Sierra Shafiq, she’d introduced herself, apparently the woman Harry had observed winning a duel as he arrived was her younger sister - jumped in cheerfully. “Oh, it’s not complicated at all, don’t worry - it’s just, there were ten people, right, and five of them lost but since you have to lose twice to get knocked out everyone’s still in after round one, right? Ten’s not a great number honestly, eight is better, but you and your brother were pretty fun to watch, I bet Azra’s real excited to get to try one of you on.”
“Thanks, I do what I can,” smiled Harry.
“Anyway so they usually have the people who won their first match play people who lost their first match, they just shuffle them so you get a different opponent, and
that means more than a quarter of the fighters get eliminated because the ones who already have one loss are more likely to lose.”
Harry nodded. “Why do they do that? Some people would say it’s fairer to have the people who won their first match go against others who also won their first match, wouldn’t they?”
“Well, sure,” said Sierra, “but that incentivizes people to throw their first match to get easier later ones, is I think the idea?”
“Not really, Miss Shafiq,” interjected the mystery wizard, in an authoritative tone that caused Harry to suddenly place him, with a startled jolt, as Pius Thicknesse. “You would have to fight the harder opponent eventually in any event. Guaranteeing you lose one of your first two matches in order to increase the odds of winning the second is a bad tradeoff - if you succeed you’re still one-and-one, which is not an improvement upon than winning your first match and losing the second, and you remove the chance of winning both and starting the third round two-naught, which would of course be the ideal.”
He looked so self-assured. It was honestly kind of horrifying, compared to the meek, traumatized, Imperiused puppet Minister Harry remembered. He’d been gently remanded to St. Mungo’s for therapy after the Battle of Hogwarts, and Shacklebolt spoke kindly of him, so Harry had known intellectually that he had once been a competent Auror, but that was quite different from seeing him in person. At an illegal social event, no less.
Sierra nodded thoughtfully - Harry did his best to mimic her interested expression - and said, “you’re absolutely right, but really, I’d lay fair odds old Nott doesn’t set the rules based on expecting people to make logical tradeoffs, he just expects everyone to be stupid.” Thicknesse chuckled appreciatively and nodded.
Hermione would find this so interesting. It was a shame she was six.
“Well, to be fair,” said Harry, “a lot of people are stupid. I, for example,” humble grin, “would definitely never have figured all that out. I’m admittedly also too stupid to try to do complicated things like throw fights, though.”
“You undersell yourself, Mr. Katz,” Thicknesse smiled. “Duelling, I understand, is a more intellectual activity than many realize.”
Maybe for some people, Harry thought. Hermione and Professor Lupin and Percy, maybe, sure. For him, though, duelling was all instinct and muscle memory - though perhaps, he was willing to admit, that was its own sort of deep thought. He made himself smile appreciatively, and thank Thicknesse for his kind words, and drift on to another conversation with Sirius trailing quietly behind him. They probably shouldn’t try to follow Greyback home today. Much as Harry would have very much liked to, but if he could get close enough they’d have some useful data for later if they needed it.
Collection had to pause, however, for Sirius to take his turn, as SAMUEL KATZ vs HEINRICH GIBBON flashed above the platform. This name was only vaguely familiar to Harry, and the face not at all. Gibbon was a slightly squirrelly dark-haired man who sneered at Sirius as he paced up the steps, clearly expecting an easy fight against someone he didn’t recognize.
Sirius, of course, bowed politely, and struck a picture-perfect classical duelling stance.
Gibbon twitched in a faintly alarmed sort of way as he took up his own, slightly wobblier and less confident stance. Sirius smirked, just slightly, and when the bell rang, cast a fog charm, sidestepped a stunner, and Disillusioned himself. This, as far as Harry understood classical duelling - which, admittedly, was not very far - was considerably less traditional. Several nearby audience members made surprised sounds.
Gibbon was unconscious quite quickly thereafter, despite his fairly wise attempt to cast a shield charm before trying to find his opponent. Sirius shimmered back into visibility as the bells rang again, 00:00:54, and bowed to the smatters of applause.
(Elsewhere, Hermione Granger, age six, wrote lies in the neat little pink day planner her parents had given her for her birthday, regarding what she’d been doing on a certain day a little while in the past.)
As the night wore on, the duelling got dirtier.
Travers took a concussion hex to the arm but still defeated his second Rowle of the evening with a moderately cleverly utilized sleep charm; Meyer, to Harry’s conflicted disappointment, concussed himself blowing Greyback off the platform and had to be dragged off to see a mediwizard under the flickering light of the floating letters declaring him the winner. “Alex” therefore earned a bye on what would have been a fight against Meyer, while Azra Shafiq showed off a genuinely impressive array of illegal hexes and sent Greyback stomping moodily out of the building.
Sirius promptly threw his fight against Harry, faking a bad dodge and dropping to the floor Stunned; Harry laughed a little awkwardly and said, while he was still magic-microphoned, “Haha, works every time,” like this was a brotherly in-joke. Sirius, when innervated, pouted very dramatically and flounced out as if to throw a tantrum over having lost so easily.
This made a lot of sense, in terms of him wanting to devote energy to tracking people instead of to social activities, but Harry really hoped he wasn’t going to go jump directly on Greyback without backup. Sure, technically the worst cases there were either “Sirius gets to go hang out with Harry’s parents in Heaven which apparently exists” and “the Marauders now have two werewolves instead of one,” neither of which would actually be the end of the world, but … still.
First, however, before he was free to check, he had to duel Azra Shafiq, who it turned out was kind of terrifying.
How on Earth had he never met this woman? The surname was vaguely familiar, in the way of old wizarding names one saw in history books now and again, but he didn’t recall having actually met anyone with it until talking to her older sister a few hours ago. She must not be a Death Eater, he supposed, or for that matter an important Ministry official, or anything of that nature. Maybe she’d got arrested two years from now for one of those extremely illegal hexes and died in Azkaban while he wasn’t looking? That was a sobering thought.
It took him a solid fifteen minutes to set up a sufficiently effective sequence of feints and jinxes before he grazed Shafiq’s elbow with a Disarming Hex, whereupon she punched him in the face.
He stunned her while he was falling over with a surprised yelp, but there was much giggling in the crowd. “Ow,” he complained from the ground, in a very dramatically injured tone which only made the audience laugh harder. “Rude.”
He grinned at her, though, when she’d gotten up and accepted the return of her wand with moderate if slightly disgruntled grace. Because he was Harry Potter and he’d gotten hit in the face with a lot of things worse than a human hand, such as for example a dragon, and also anybody willing to resort immediately and unrepentantly to Muggle violence in a room full of purebloods was, in his opinion, a friend.
“Amazing fight,” he said, as they were leaving the platform, “seriously, haven’t had that much fun in ages, you made my day.”
She seemed to find this compliment significantly mollifying. “And you,” she said. Her nod was stiff, but her smile seemed genuine. “We shall have to try again some time.”
With Meyer out of commission and one “Katz” out of the building and Shafiq having already lost to the other and everybody else having lost twice, Harry was declared the winner of the evening without much further ado, and handed his winnings (twenty-five Galleons, the other half of everyone’s buy-ins of course going to the house). He made an effort to socialize for another at least fifteen minutes before excusing himself on grounds of “it’s been lovely to meet you all but I gotta go dig my brother out of whatever hole he’s moping in, haha!”
Sirius, of course, was sprawled on the roof of the building, pretending to sulk.
“Oh good,” said Harry as he hopped over the railing, “you didn’t go commit suicide.”
“I was tempted!” said Sirius brightly. “Some potential stupid decisions have such compellingly sharp teeth, you know.”
But Greyback’s compellingly sharp teeth - and more to the point, his victims - would have to wait another day, because they had long-term plans and he was dangerous. So off they went, instead, to the home of a moderately unlucky David Travers, who would wake up the next morning to a home carefully scrubbed of any traces of intrusion or spellcasting and all of his kitchen appliances turned inside-out.
Over the course of the next few months, the fictional Katz brothers attended several more illicit duelling clubs, socializing and building a reputation as real people who definitely existed and collecting names and faces and pureblood gossip. Meyer showed up once or twice more, and Harry did eventually get to fight him - he lost, but not as badly as he’d been worried he might! - as well as squaring up a few more times with Shafiq, who was great for stretching his Weird Bullshit muscles without seeming too weird. Nobody was going to wonder where he learned an obscure medical glue charm when his opponent was throwing around heavily restricted ice curses.
In between, the slightly less fictional Adrian Murphy visited his two not-yet-sisters-in-law in turn, listened fondly as they told him at length about whatever they were excited about that day. It was something of an effort not to project onto them his feelings about little rainbow-haired Teddy Lupin, who was (wasn’t? would have been? had been going to be?) around the same age, and simultaneously a little difficult not to expect them to be the adults they weren’t yet, but it was good practice for acting the age his body actually was. Plus, those were the friendships he expected to require foundational work before they’d trust him to give them bizarre instructions he couldn’t justify logically without future information. His beloved Weasleys, on the other hand, would (had in the future)(should?) pretty much adopt him immediately and without fuss.
On various occasions, not always lined up with duelling club evenings because that would be terribly suspicious, various future or past Death Eaters found their lives becoming sort of surreal.
A Goyle or two woke up one day to find their garden turned to stone. Lucius Malfoy spent several days checking and rechecking all of his security systems after he woke up another day to find the outside of his manor covered in a thin layer of peanuts. Several Averies and a Crabbe came home from work to find their houses full of neon orange seagulls.
And then, one day, Walden Macnair didn’t wake up at all.
Chapter 16: It's Not About The Journey (But We're Having Fun Anyway)
On Harry’s second seventh birthday, Alastor Moody figured out how to send him owl post.
Pettigrew’s in Azkaban now. Bones didn’t want anything in the Prophet with Black still at large but I suspected you’d want to know.
Also, what the hell did Walden Macnair ever do to you?
After a brief but very alarmed scramble, Harry and Sirius concluded that the roundabout means Mad-Eye had had to do this by - some kind of elaborate multiple-owl relay that piggybacked on the Daily Prophet’s automated delivery system - meant he didn’t actually have any idea where they were. So after some care to enchant Rex to minimize the risk he’d be kidnapped or followed home or something, they sent a letter back:
Thank you, I really appreciate the news.
No comment on the executioner. Why, did something happen to him? :)
Rex returned shortly thereafter with the same page, upon which was scribbled a little animated drawing of the Eye of Vance rolling itself in derisive circles and the words why am I not surprised you have the world’s most needlessly dramatic owl?
“Harsh but fair,” giggled Harry as he showed this note to Sirius.
Late in 1987, Sirius failed to resist the temptation to send Remus Lupin a Christmas present.
Being Sirius, he was expecting this to just be a form of depressing emotional self-harm, but this expectation failed to take into consideration that Remus, who had done a great deal of the fiddly boring enchantment work on the Marauders’ Map while James and Sirius were adventurously discovering dangerous secret passageways, knew a truly prodigious number of nearly unheard-of mapping and tracking charms. Rather more than even Alastor Moody, in fact.
Less than two weeks later, Remus showed up on their doorstep covered in Muggle-repelling and Notice-Me-Not charms with the unlabelled, unsigned book of obscure Portuguese defense charms in hand. (Inside, there was a whispered frantic argument. Key phrases included we can’t tell him!! and how the fuck did I not realize he’d be able to - ) Outside, Remus knocked very politely. He waited patiently until Sirius slowly opened the door, then smiled at him, stepped inside and shut the door carefully behind him. Sirius opened his mouth, tried to say something, and quite failed.
Remus said, calmly, “If you have hurt Harry I will Cruciate you until you die.”
There was a very awkward, heavy pause.
Then Harry Apparated from under his cloak directly to “hug,” and Sirius sat down abruptly on the floor, took a deep, unsteady breath, and burst out laughing.
“Uh,” said Remus. He could deal with at most one of those things at once, so he made an executive decision to ignore Sirius in favor of his armful of missing and apparently teleporting primary schooler. “Harry, what - what happened, are you okay?”
“I am so great,” said Harry, grinning broadly. “Ignore Sirius,” who was now instead crying, “he’ll be fine in a second, he just missed you a whole lot and is having a lot of feelings about it because he’s a huge drama queen.”
Remus squinted at Harry. He sounded way too much like his parents. “You’re …… how old?”
Harry tilted his head, counted years. “Seven? Seven. Yes.”
“Riiiight. Did you know that Sirius, uh, kidnapped you. Also why do you know who I am.”
Harry snickered. “Technically he is my godfather so he totally did not. Also, obviously, he told me all about you.” He considered Sirius’ moderate scale emotional meltdown, decided it was probably going to be a couple more minutes, and elected to continue explaining. “He feels super bad about how probably if he had trusted you more an evil rat would not have killed my parents.”
Remus looked slightly appalled at this characterization of Pettigrew. “An evil rat -”
“The evil rat got arrested about it,” Harry added, waving his hand at where the conviction report (unpublicized, but still public record) was taped to the wall among Harry’s children’s pool safety class completion certificate, an article from the Quibbler about how Millicent Bagnold’s comments on the massive Statute violations in the wake of Voldemort’s death were clear evidence that she was actually covering up an outbreak of confetti gremlins, and a large number of photographs. The stark greyscale picture of Peter - alive, unexploded, and clearly labeled with a list of crimes - short-circuited Remus’ reply slightly. “Also, life update, we got an incredibly cool fire owl and yes don’t worry Sirius did teach me to read and everything, I am very well-adjusted the neighbors compliment us on it all the time.”
Sirius, finding he was still not succeeding at containing his giant pile of feelings very well, instead turned into a dog and flopped on Remus’s foot.
“Oh! And! I can fly!!” added Harry. Because, well, even if it was not quite safe to tell the whole time travel story to someone who trusts Dumbledore so much, Remus had certainly demonstrated the ability to be circumspect about this one specific thing. He turned into a sleek black falcon, flapped his way out of hug and around Remus in a smug loop, and then landed on a nearby railing and turned back into a seven-year-old, beaming.
Remus slid to the floor, patted Sirius’s fuzzy head somewhat despairingly, and said helplessly, “why … are you like this.”
“Why would we not be like this? It’s incredibly fun. Sirius, you’re an adult, use your words.”
Sirius sort of burrowed sadly into Remus’ side, turned back into a person, and said mournfully, “I should’ve come and got you two years ago but I was scared you’d be mad at me.”
Sighing, Remus hugged his best friend and said, “Sirius. You absolute moron. Of course I am furious with you.”
Although Remus did not actually move in with them - he was utterly unwilling to be within a thousand miles of Harry on the full moon, which was fair, really - he was thereafter around a lot, so they started introducing him to people whenever it came up as Michael Murphy’s late wife’s brother ‘John Lawrence.’ He had been gone for a while doing a mathematics postdoc in Australia, the story went, and was now back in town and happy to spend more time with his nephew. Approximately everyone, as far as they could tell, immediately assumed that this was a cover-up story for him being a secret agent or something, seeing as he was 90% scars by surface area and had the absolute unflappable chill of someone whose emotional reactions are calibrated on a scale from “insane Marauder nonsense: just another Tuesday” to “everyone I love is dead: it’s happened before and I managed to move past it.”
An outside observer might feel, at this point, that Remus probably should have been a lot more concerned than he was about how involved Harry was in all the aforementioned insane Marauder nonsense. Part of the reason he would be such a good teacher, however, was that he believed very strongly that children are, in fact, people, who mostly know what they’re capable of. Little seven-year-old Harry who sometimes talked entirely too much like his adult parents was happy, healthy, and getting every educational opportunity his heart desired, and Sirius was obviously prioritizing those things above everything else, including bothering to consider whether it was necessarily a good idea to let him participate in a lot of illegal vandalism. So it was difficult for him to suppose that anything might be wrong. And if Harry sometimes flinched at sudden movements, well, his parents had been murdered by Voldemort when he was a year old, so.
(Plus … well, Remus Lupin might be the most responsible Marauder by a country mile, but ‘more responsible than Sirius Black’ is not actually a high bar. He is still just as much a lost, grieving man in his mid-twenties who lost two of his best friends not that long ago, who, for all that he is quite a bit more willing to run to Dumbledore for advice than Sirius, has always been willing to put the happiness of the people he loves above the rules.)
On Harry’s second eighth birthday, Hermione Granger tried to throw him a pool party, and about fifteen minutes into it one of her classmates burst into flame.
On the one hand, Harry reflected as he frantically tried to pretend that that kid had gone into the pool under his own power and not been shoved by a panicked burst of magic, he had known that she had not had a very socially successful primary school experience. But he would really have expected ‘funny story, this one kid was so mean to me that I literally set him on fire’ to have come up at some point in casual conversation. Hadn’t Hermione said that she did almost zero accidental magic as a child because she was funneling all her stress into studying instead? He remembered that conversation, he’d felt bad about being jealous.
Sirius was gamely emitting charisma at alarmed parents, and Harry was vaguely aware that he had been nudged into standing in such a way that he blocked everyone’s view of the line of Sirius’ wand, aiming Healing charms at the kid’s disappearing burns, but mostly he was looking at Hermione, who was staring silently down at her hands with a very strange expression on her face.
“Hey, it’s okay, look, he’s fine,” he said softly, nudging her shoulder and pointing at the shrieking eight-year-old who indeed was now quite uninjured. Sirius was explaining cheerfully that clearly there had been some confusion but, obviously, this poor kid had just been too warm and got confused, as you can see he is clearly uninjured and there is no actual fire, could somebody maybe get him a glass of water, that’s a symptom of oncoming heatstroke you know…
“He shouldn’t be,” murmured Hermione, half guilty and half annoyed.
Harry stared at her, slightly appalled.
The thing was, for the most part, he was actually pretty used to her being the ruthless one. Hermione had been the one to generate the plan ‘drug and impersonate classmates’ like that was a perfectly reasonable first resort when they were only in second year, and as she got older she hadn’t really gotten any less willing to hurt people if she felt it was sufficiently justified. But those had all been quite deliberate decisions on her part. This, he would have thought, if he understood Hermione at all, should have looked more like when she was fifteen and having relationship drama, when she’d been flailing and making decisions she didn’t endorse. I didn’t mean to do that, I shouldn’t have done that, why did I do that? But this wasn’t that, at all.
Feeling confused and wrong-footed, Harry said, “he... wasn’t that rude?”
Hermione blinked, looked back at him. Something shifted in her eyes, strange and dark and concerningly familiar. Then she smiled brightly, eight years old and guileless, and it was gone. “What? Oh, don’t be silly, Harry, I’m not going to do anything horrible like get him in trouble at school, I’m just not going to invite him to any more parties. But I think he ought to apologize for making such a scene over his sunburn.”
But you saw that, you did that, you must know it wasn’t a coincidence - No, when Harry was eight he’d teleported on top of a building and somehow managed to convince himself he couldn’t possibly have done that under his own power because magic wasn’t real. This was probably a normal amount of denial, especially with Sirius right there doing his level best to be charismatic enough that he wouldn’t need to Obliviate anyone. Right?
It was still a little unsettling.
He spent several weeks after that incident awkwardly avoiding her and distracting himself with dueling practice and assorted nonsense. Very insistent, obnoxiously yellow and red flowers carpeted the Parkinsons’ building, twenty-seven different houses had their furniture randomized so that Malfoy’s sitting room couch was in Rosier’s basement and Fudge’s kitchen was full of Crabbe’s shoes and so forth, Yaxley woke up one day to several dozen Kneazles in his bedroom…
Harry got another letter from Mad-Eye in late August.
I acknowledge that this is very funny but space it out a little, would you, Scrimgeour has been working so much overtime dealing with reports of mysterious bullshit that his boyfriend sent me a Howler. Are you secretly twelve people?
“OH NO,” cackled Harry, reading this. He’d forgotten that Kingsley Shacklebolt (pursuing an early career hunting ghouls in Belgium) and Nymphadora Tonks (still in school) weren’t part of the Auror Office yet and as a result they were kind of understaffed for dealing with a full three-person dose of Marauder Nonsense™. They weren’t actually hurting anyone, for the most part, but even very weird vandalism is still a crime, so of course people who were still currently in good community standing and not in jail for being Death Eaters were making police reports.
I cannot confirm or deny that I am secretly sixty-seven marauding squirrels in a trenchcoat. :>
They slowed down a little bit, though, for Mad-Eye’s sanity.
Instead Harry tried to resume being friends with Hermione, who did not set anyone else on fire or evince any apparent awareness that that was a thing that could happen, and spent more time with Fleur, who would soon be going off to school. She could still outspeed him on the same model broom but he could outmaneuver her, so her mother had set them up race courses in the gardens with intervening patches of complex obstacles and straightaways which were enormous fun to spend hours in.
Eventually, wishing her ‘cousin’ goodbye until next summer, Fleur began her first term at Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, and Harry decided it was time to revisit the Horcrux Hunt.
Unfortunately, part of the point of their adventures making future and/or past Death Eaters’ lives weird and inconvenient had been trying to figure out where Lucius Malfoy might have hidden Tom Riddle’s diary, and this part had ... not been as much of a success as the fun bits.
Despite now-extensive practice sneaking through magical ward systems in various magical peoples’ houses, and a distant recollection that there was definitely a hidden room somewhere in Malfoy Manor, they had not actually been able to find it. It was too perfectly hidden, without knowing where to look. Harry, unfortunately, no longer had a clear memory of how Malfoy Manor was currently put together, even just to the degree that would be normal from visiting it. Draco and Narcissa had remodeled extensively after the war, finding it too uncomfortable to live in a building that had half the country’s trauma deeply embedded in its walls.
“I suppose we could just wait,” said Harry dubiously, one day as they were poring over sketches of the place while Remus was at work. (They hadn’t tried too hard to discourage him from insisting on continuing to pick up odd jobs at libraries and potion-makers’ shops and museums and zoos and so forth to make himself feel useful, since it meant predictable intervals at which to discuss facts about the hopefully-counterfactual future). “Eventually he’s going to plant it on Ginny, right, I could just steal it and replace it with an actual blank book before she notices it talks.”
“I don’t love giving up,” Sirius said, “but it’s possible we should be prioritizing something else, yeah.”
It was hard to say what , though. Helga Hufflepuff’s cup, like the Peverell ring, was somewhere entirely mysterious to Harry, as he was certain Voldemort had given it to Bellatrix to be placed in Gringotts after his return. Sirius had never even heard of Nagini before Harry mentioned her, so it seemed a plausible bet that the snake hadn’t been Horcruxed or perhaps even born yet. Slytherin’s locket was safe in their basement, courtesy of Regulus, but Ravenclaw’s diadem was missing for unknown reasons and if they couldn’t find Riddle’s diary either that was actually all of them.
“Dumbledore found at least the ring somehow ,” grumbled Harry. “Stupid bullshit two-hundred-year-old geniuses.”
“Remus might be able to,” pointed out Sirius. “He found us. Are you sure we shouldn’t talk to Dumbledore? Mad-Eye believed you.”
“I’m not really sure what Mad-Eye believes. I only sort of told him the truth.” Look, I’m not five years old but I am Harry Potter. “And I don’t think he knows the whole story with the Horcruxes and all. Dumbledore does.”
Sirius frowned. “You don’t think he’s talked to Dumbledore?”
“Well, probably, but Dumbledore can be very cagey , right, it wouldn’t surprise me if - no, wait,” Harry paused, reconsidering his own logic, “he was cagey and unhelpful with me, specifically, because I was a kid . Is he actually like that with adults too?”
Sirius made a wobbly gesture. “Varies. He doesn’t always keep everything to himself entirely, but does get very, hm, intense, you know that thing he does where he suddenly gets all grave and stern even though he’s wearing a completely ridiculous hat and was making a joke about candy three seconds ago, about how dangerous it can be to tell even one additional person an important secret? He even got James to not tell me and Lily about all the,” he waved vaguely at the Cloak, shimmering softly on the coatrack, “bloodline stuff.”
“And if anybody deserved to know it really would’ve been my mom,” sighed Harry. “Yeah, so... if that’s not just a concern for sensitive ears thing but actually just general trait of paranoia... it’s not implausible he could believe that I am possessed and managed to talk my way through that conversation by virtue of Horcrux-possessed people still actually containing the people they used to be and wasn’t willing to explain to Mad-Eye that it’s different because he thinks Horcruxes are a horrifying infohazard?”
“Which, I mean, honestly, fair.”
Harry contemplated the abject awfulness of trying to deal with dozens of immortal Death Eaters and shuddered. “Right. But... I think that means we can’t assume he’s not just quietly biding his time to fuck up all my everything the instant he has a line of sight on me.”
“That’ll make it pretty hard to go to Hogwarts.”
“I know!” Harry flopped somewhat despondently onto his folded arms on the tabletop. “I really want to just tell him the truth, his masterminding nonsense aside he really does try and he would be so useful, but after that lecture about all the ways Tom Riddle the giant mind-reading asshole could trivially defeat any means they have of truth-detecting me it doesn’t really seem like it would help.”
Sirius patted him on the shoulder. “Wars are stupid and bad,” he agreed. “Maybe should just kill all the Death Eaters and fuck off to China, You-Know-Who can only wreak so much havoc without any minions, right?”
“Can’t,” sighed Harry, “too much hero complex.”
“You are so very much your parents’ child,” laughed Sirius. “Right right. So we have to fix everything, can’t just fix 95% of everything and let Dumbledore sort out the rest, huh. Is there a way you can make it so that Dumbledore can’t, uh, what was that charming phrase you used, fuck up all your everything?”
Harry contemplated this. “Well, I definitely can’t take him in a fight but … I … might be able to if I got the Wand off him and that didn’t motivate him to immediately advance the field of shieldbreaking by twenty years and I’m not wildly underestimating him which honestly I might be, I’ve only seen him actually fight the once and I was like eighty percent unconscious?” Dumbledore had, after all, once already demonstrated the ability to defeat an opponent holding the Elder Wand, and even at the time Grindelwald had been rather older and more experienced than Harry was now, extensive trial by fire and general Chosen One-ness notwithstanding.
Evidently following roughly this train of thought, Sirius said, “You know, on reflection it’s weird that he beat Grindelwald, got the ludicrously powerful ancient artifact wand to make himself even more powerful, and then didn’t proceed to trivially crush Voldemort, who I seem to remember hearing that you on several occasions managed to avoid getting murdered by when you were a child who’d known about magic for less than half a decade.”
“ … you make a concerningly valid point,” said Harry, frowning. “Hm. You know, I think maybe what happened is he didn’t actually win that fight with skill so much as that he was there to end the war by whatever means necessary and Grindelwald didn’t want to kill him?”
Sirius shivered. “ Super weird contemplating Dumbledore shacking up with the evil warlord who built Nurmengard, thanks so much for that reminder. Uh. So how does that alter your guess on whether you could make yourself safe enough if you had the Wand?”
Harry bit his lip. “Tech advantage miiiight be enough? And if he can’t just overpower me then maybe I can get through to him like I did Mad-Eye although honestly I would not be surprised if it takes like five years of continuously being harmless and fun and Gryffindor at him.”
“Probably a worthwhile investment,” Sirius nodded, “all things considered.”
It was something of an ironic mirror of his previous life, Harry thought, that he had devoted so much time to the emotional decision to seek the Horcruxes over the Hallows, to prioritize Voldemort’s defeat over gaining anything for himself, and here he was choosing the opposite, because it was more likely to end in Voldemort’s defeat. But in the end, after all, how he got from here to there didn’t matter - all he really wanted was for everyone he loved to get to live.
A little after Harry’s tenth birthday, Albus Dumbledore woke up one morning to find that his wand had been replaced on his bedside table by a little red knitted plush phoenix, with a note pinned to it:
Please forgive my paranoia. I promise I’m not going to hurt anyone with it.
With greatest respect,
P.S. Couldn’t resist the tiny Fawkes. Isn’t he adorable?
Chapter 17: Hogwarts, At Last
Fleur Delacour came back from Beauxbatons in the summer of 1991 with the bounce in her step conspicuously missing.
“How, um, how was school?” asked Harry when he came to visit shortly afterward, already kind of dreading the answer. She had been getting steadily quieter and colder as she grew into a young teenager, but usually she warmed right up when she returned home to her family. It had worried him less, watching it happen in real time instead of comparing the child Fleur to the steely adult he remembered. This seemed different, though.
She wobbled on the spot, sniffled, and then burst into tears.
“Er,” he said helplessly. He wanted to Conjure her a cup of tea or something, but this would be an obviously insane and impossible thing for a not-quite-eleven-year-old to do. Instead he offered her a hug.
Fleur explained, at length, through sobs, that everyone at school was horrible to her because they either thought she wasn’t a real witch on account of not being fully human, or they thought she was pretentious and self-absorbed because she cared a lot about her hair looking nice, or etcetera, and she had mostly been able to ignore it the first couple years because hardly anybody really paid that much attention to the younger students and anyway summers she didn’t have to worry about it, but then she’d also kept being the top of her class and making her classmates feel inadequate and everyone had hit puberty and was being insane and -
“Oh no,” said Harry, “that sounds really horrible.” I know how you feel, he didn’t say, because years spent with the whole school hating him were in the future in another lifetime, hopefully to never happen again. “And really, sucks to be them, right, if they’re rude they don’t get to be your friend and you’re great.”
Fleur giggled. “I am pretty great. Did," deep breath, "did you know, my Charms professor said he had never seen a third-year perform such a well-controlled dancing feet enchantment? For my final I had a mouse do a whole ballet! But then of course all last week everyone’s going on about how I’m such a showoff, and I tell them it’s not my fault they’re bad at Charms,” imperious sniff, “and then of course they’re more mad and it’s all very horrible.”
Harry nodded sympathetically and said more vague reassuring things, figuring that really all Fleur needed was for someone at least anywhere in the ballpark of her own age to tell her she wasn’t a horrible person. Once she’d had some time to vent, though, it was not that difficult to instead distract her with Gabrielle.
The even tinier quarter-Veela had gotten quite attached to him, especially since Apolline had gotten Sirius to agree to give flying lessons. She thought their cousin Adrian was fabulously interesting; he was from ALL THE WAY IN ENGLAND and also SMALL, LIKE HER and also, of course, most relevantly, he was friends with Fleur, THE MOST IMPORTANT AND BEST PERSON in THE WHOLE WORLD, which made him automatically awesome by association. Harry, who had always liked kids and wanted several as soon as Ginny was ready, thought this was extremely cute and was happy to be the fun older cousin, which had helped keep him well on top of Fleur’s list of favorite non-Gabrielle people.
Eventually, watching six-year-old Gabrielle gleefully demonstrate her ability to fly in a WHOLE CIRCLE without falling off EVEN A LITTLE, Fleur asked him what he’d been doing all year, not having quite yet begun formal wizard schooling.
He resisted the insane urge to brag about the extremely clever way in which he’d assassinated Amycus and Alecto Carrow and instead told a funny story about how his dad had tried to teach him to use the Floo by himself and he ended up in Italy somehow. (This had actually happened, but not to Harry - rather, it was a story stolen from Regulus when he was around the right age. Sirius had been sifting through his parents’ photograph albums, finding that it helped him fetch back missing memories of having a not completely disastrous relationship with his baby brother.)
“Wow,” said Fleur, “that must have been very scary!”
Harry grinned. “Nah, I knew he would come find me.”
(The punchline of this story was that actually-eight-year-old Regulus Black had not been scared because he confidently expected his big brother Sirius to save him. Sirius had been having kind of a bad week, thinking about how differently things could have gone if Regulus had still trusted him that much at seventeen.)
Just a few weeks before his birthday, Harry got another letter from Alastor Moody, with coordinates for a random spot in the northern Scottish hills.
Dumbledore wants to talk about you going to school. 8pm this Thursday. Says he promises not to arrest you if you show up.
I’ll stop him if he tries anyway. I want to know why he won’t tell me what he’s got against you.
This was probably a bad idea, honestly, but Harry really, really wanted to go back to Hogwarts, if nothing else because he was a little worried that somehow he’d otherwise fail to separate Ginny from Tom’s diary and someone would actually die of getting basilisk-ed.
So he brought Sirius, Disillusioned and Cloaked, and he landed already covered in shields and set up a stationary one as soon as he did, but he went.
“Kid after my own heart,” snickered Mad-Eye, leaning on a boulder under his own shields. His Eye tracked Sirius lazily.
“He is not as he seems,” sighed Dumbledore.
Harry… did not have a witty quip prepared for this. He’d scripted himself several, but they’d all escaped as soon as he laid eyes in person on the real actual Albus Dumbledore, the man who had orchestrated his life, death, resurrection, and legacy.
He was very tall, Harry thought inanely. Partly this was probably just because when he’d died Harry had been almost seventeen, not almost eleven, but he also seemed as though he was standing straighter. He looked confident and healthy. Harry’s war hadn’t been Dumbledore’s first - it hadn’t even been his second - but it had been the one that broke him, the one that dragged him into a despairing, dying hunch, months or maybe years before it had thrown him off the Astronomy Tower.
“I, um,” said Harry.
“No dramatic speech before you try to kill me? I’m a little disappointed, Tom.”
Mad-Eye squinted at him. “Who the hell is -”
Dumbledore gave him a sharp look.
“ - oh, fine, all right, no questions.”
“I actually totally understand why he’s being cagey about this,” volunteered Harry, avoiding looking at Dumbledore in favor of shooting Mad-Eye an apologetic glance. “Voldemort is about eighty percent infohazards by volume and it’s sheer luck that he fucked himself up too hard too quickly to be competent enough to use any of them properly, so like, no offense but it totally makes sense that he doesn’t want to explain to you why he thinks I’m evil even though, I’m guessing from how we’re having this conversation at all, the Magic Quill totally agrees I’m me?”
He’d thought about this and it was honestly true. Horcruxes? Incredibly dangerous information for anyone to have. Deathly Hallows? Also really destructive and tended to ruin lives. ‘Voldemort used to be that one half-blood kid Tom Riddle’? Could throw pureblood society into hilarious disarray, but in a way where a lot of people would probably die. ‘The Grey Lady is actually Helena Ravenclaw and the Bloody Baron murdered her and Voldemort’s the reason she doesn’t talk to anybody anymore’’? That’s several civil wars waiting to happen.
“Ah-huh,” said Mad-Eye.
“So um,” he took a deep breath, did his level best to clear his mind, and met Dumbledore’s terrifying blue eyes. “Did you want to see my Patronus, Moody said I should’ve started with that.”
Dumbledore frowned at him. “As you like.”
Teddy’s first broomstick, spinning around Andromeda’s living room giggling god he really hoped Dumbledore was not mindreading him right now oh great now he’s thinking about Dumbledore in the train station telling him how brave he’d been that’s embarrassing “Expecto patronum! ”
“Huh,” said Dumbledore, gazing thoughtfully at the glowing silver stag.
Harry fidgeted, quietly.
There was a long, awkward silence.
Mad-Eye made an irritated noise. “Okay I know this is a question but it’s not for you, headmaster - Potter, do you actually think he still has a good reason to think you’re evil? It seems extremely obvious to me that something completely nuts is up with you but ‘literally Voldemort’ isn’t it.”
“I …would like to imagine no but I think he kind of does?” admitted Harry. At this point the logical explanation for all of the everything was that Harry was some kind of horrifying Tom/Harry gestalt and realistically even if the resulting person was less evil than Voldemort, he would probably still be much, much more evil than actual ten-year-old Harry, so it was pretty fair to be worried about that. For that matter, even completely 100% certified Horcrux-free Harry was still probably rather more evil than actual ten-year-old Harry, he’d killed people. On purpose.
“A secret reason,” deadpanned the Chief Auror. (He was going to retire any year now and put Scrimgeour in charge but as far as Harry knew he hadn’t gotten around to it yet.)
“That’s incredibly stupid and I’m annoyed with both of you.”
Harry nodded. “Honestly super fair of you.”
Dumbledore finally tore his gaze from Prongs and peered at Harry. “You don’t seem to be trying to assassinate me, yet you came to the meeting anyway. Why?”
“Because I really want to go to Hogwarts.” Pause. “Actually, come to think of it, you of all people should know that that’s also like the one thing Voldemort wants other than to be a massive asshole all the time, so you should believe me that I want that even if you think I’m him?”
“That’s a weird thing for Voldemort to want and why do you know that,” grumbled Mad-Eye.
“Secret reasons. Aaand I mean, Professor, even if I was ... just for the sake of example… an unholy fusion of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and an innocent child, say…”
Mad-Eye snorted in disbelief. “Awful specific example there, Potter.”
“ ---- surely,” Harry forged on, cheerfully, shooting Mad-Eye a bright you’re damn straight it’s an awful specific example, you’re welcome grin, “in that case you’d want me to be surrounded by nice, children who might be able to turn me from the side of darkness using the power of love and friendship, no?”
He could almost see the wheels grinding against each other in Dumbledore’s head: the screaming voice of paranoid reason against his pathological need to give everyone a second, third, twenty-seventh chance. “Perhaps,” allowed Dumbledore, “it would help.”
“It worked for Sirius,” he said. “Having friends.”
“It did!” chimed in Sirius helpfully, causing Dumbledore to twitch slightly.
Harry really didn’t love letting Dumbledore think he was evil, as incredibly funny as it was to watch Mad-Eye try to figure out what possible secret reasons could justify this conviction. But he’d committed at this point to refusing to explain himself, even if, realistically, there was no way Dumbledore was going to be an information security leak. Not him, of all people. Frankly, it was ridiculous, and unreasonable, and he should tell the truth so they could, maybe, work together. He just… didn’t want to.
If he was really being honest with himself, he wasn’t really afraid of Voldemort finding out what was going on, or he’d have been more careful about pretending to be a child. He was afraid that if he didn’t hold his cards close enough to his chest, Dumbledore would take them away. And then he would be a child again, useless, afraid, with someone else steering his life. Someone right, good, clever, someone trying their absolute best to do right by everyone, someone he loved and respected and hadn’t realized until just today that he missed, achingly, like a beloved grandfather, a teacher, who he could and should have been able to trust with anything -
He couldn’t make himself do it.
So instead he’d let Dumbledore think he was another chance to redeem Tom Riddle. Maybe that would be enough.
“If you hurt any of them I will kill you,” said Dumbledore, softly.
Harry nodded. “I would expect nothing less.”
A little while later, he got his Hogwarts letter, right on schedule.
Sirius and Remus had gone Diagon Alley in January, well outside the school rush, to get all the usual first-year textbooks and other materials for Harry. They got some weird questions, and ended up accidentally stealing half of the Magical Menagerie when someone got too suspicious of the unrecognizable strangers evading questions about why they were shopping as if for a nonexistent child and summoned the Aurors on them.
“Did they kidnap a spell researcher or something,” complained Savage as they were fixing the various holes in buildings that had resulted from the brief, vicious, and unsuccessful firefight. “Black was always good but he wasn’t half a dozen spells I’ve never seen before good.”
Redwood sighed. “There’s nobody reported missing except Potter, I checked.”
(Most of the magical animals were gently deposited back into the shop within a few days, with apologetic notes, but Hedwig went home to Harry.)
A little while later, after the meeting with Dumbledore, Hermione told her neighbor, awkward and delighted, over tea and biscuits in his living room, that she was going to boarding school in Scotland this fall. “I, um, I can’t tell you where exactly, but it’s a very special program and I’m really excited -”
Harry grinned at her, and said, “about that,” and whistled for the teakettle, which floated over of its own volition and refilled their cups.
Hermione stared at him.
“So we’re also wizards actually,” he said.
“Um ,” said Hermione.
“I thought you might be a Muggleborn when you set that kid on fire but it would still have been illegal to tell you before you got your letter,” he explained. “I’m going to Hogwarts too, though.”
“You’re welcome for healing him by the way,” added Sirius, poking his head in from the kitchen. He was attempting to bake chocolate muffins to throw at Remus, who had somehow managed to completely shatter his leg the previous week during the full moon and was flopped upstairs drinking skele-gro and grumpily reading Newt Scamander’s latest travelogue.
“UM,” said Hermione, her voice rising to something of a squeak.
“Also I kind of have another really big secret,” added Harry, “which I should tell you before we leave because I don’t want you to have a heart attack on the train.”
Hermione stared at him, and took a deep breath to stem her inclination to make more confused screeching noises, and said, “what could possibly be more -”
“So, uh, have you read Modern Magical History yet?”
Her relief at the familiar, comforting concept of being asked about a book she’d read was palpable. “Oh! Yes, I’ve read that and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century and I haven’t had a chance yet to start on The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts but I’ve skimmed it!”
Harry nodded briskly. “Right. Okay. So my name’s not Adrian Murphy. It’s Harry Potter.”
For a second, Hermione was almost too offended to be surprised. “And you didn’t tell me this??”
“Um. I am telling you now?”
“We have been friends for years!” she spluttered, looking rather as though he’d slapped her in the face with a textbook. “How could you not tell me you were secretly a, a, a famously missing celebrity who everyone thinks is probably dead - I mean I know you couldn’t tell me about magic but that’s still kind of an important thing about your life - wait, ” her voice dropped to a whisper, “ wait does this mean you were kidnapped like Modern Magical History says, is Mr. Murphy secretly evil - ”
“I think technically legally I did get kidnapped but I promise he’s not evil? I was all for it.”
“Adri - I mean, Harry! What? You couldn't have known! You were five!!”
“Yeeee-es,” he admitted, “but that’s old enough to have known that I’d rather live with the surrogate parent who teaches me stuff and bakes delicious chocolate muffins,” one of which had just floated into the room and balanced very carefully on his head, “and not the ones that threw frying pans at me and constantly told me how terrible I am.”
“........... okay,” said Hermione, plucking her own floating muffin carefully out of the air before it could get stuck in her hair, and deflating considerably, “alright, that’s really sad actually and your point is taken.”
“Right? My life is a continuous series of incredibly bizarre tragedies."
“Did you do something about your,” pause, “inadequate previous guardians?”
Harry squinted at her. “Something like what?” Hermione had always been kind of offended by the Dursleys, but…
Something in her face said like setting them on fire, duh but what she actually said was, “Like calling the police, Harry, it’s illegal to throw frying pans at children. Or anybody, actually.”
“N...o? I was, as you mentioned, five.”
Hermione huffed, “I guess,” clearly less than thrilled about letting someone just get away with a crime. Harry laughed. There was the tiny, justice-is-black-and-white kid he remembered.
He gave her a little time to absorb all this, which she spent contemplatively eating her chocolate muffin and staring into the middle distance, before introducing her to Rex and Hedwig.
"This lovely lady is mine," he said of his beloved snowy owl, who was contentedly accepting gentle headpats, "and that there unrepentant showoff is, not unsurprisingly, my dad's - or, er, should I stop calling him that to you, is that weird now?" He had of course spent six years getting in the habit of calling Sirius "Dad" when talking to everyone except Remus, but with new information Hermione was now well aware that his actual parents were dead.
Hermione contemplated this. "It is kind of weird now. Who is he actually, if he's not Sirius Black like all the books think got you?"
Harry weighed for a second whether it would be worth it to refuse to say. It seemed like a bad idea after all the secrecy but it wasn't like he was actually going to be able to convince anyone in the wizarding world to believe he had been anywhere else other than with Sirius and if she tried to look up who Michael Murphy was she’d probably eventually figure out he was fake anyway. "So maybe don't tell your parents this, but he in fact is Sirius Black," he said, eventually. "He got framed and then he got blamed for kidnapping me and unfortunately we can't really risk letting them re-arrest him in case the Wizengamot decides there weren't enough extenuating circumstances, so, fake identity."
"I see," said Hermione, somewhat dubiously.
“Relatedly I’m going to need you to not tell anybody I live across the street from you,” he added, “please.”
There was a pause. “What if I don’t?” she wondered, tilting her head thoughtfully.
Blink. “Well, then we’ll move and not tell you where and also I’ll be kind of upset.”
“Ah.” Bright smile. “Well, you’re my friend, so of course you can count on me, Harry. ”
Meeting Ron on the train was really awkward - at least until after he’d earned the redhead’s friendship by buying an insane amount of candy and then cheerfully encouraging him to explain Quidditch to Hermione for three hours, while Harry lost repeatedly at Exploding Snap to try to get Neville to smile - but it was nothing compared to standing in line for approximately fifteen minutes while Hermione argued with the Sorting Hat.
The whispers started around minute five; hatstalls weren’t entirely unheard of, but it was still rare enough to be a matter of some gossipy interest among the student body. It had become a low roar of astonishment by minute ten.
Eventually it yelled “GRYFFINDOR ,” but in an an almost... resentful tone of voice, somehow.
Hermione scurried to her seat, furiously red, amid confused applause, and Harry stared at her. That definitely hadn’t happened before. He’d certainly spent enough time around Hermione to make her a different person than she’d been at eleven before, but the person she’d been at eleven had had to argue the Hat into sending her to their House already. What had he done to make her less a Gryffindor? Was a more confident, more relaxed Hermione more Ravenclaw? Shouldn’t that have just tipped the scale over to the other side, close as she had already been?
Why did she look almost as though she was red, not with embarrassment, but with anger?
He almost missed McGonagall calling his name.
“Potter, Harry!” she said, very nearly completely concealing how much she wanted to interrogate him about where he'd been and whether he was okay, and he climbed up on the stool as the whispers started up again.
My goodness, said the Sorting Hat. And what nonsense is this, then?
Chapter 18: Idyllic Hogwarts, Where Nothing Ever Goes Wrong And Everything Is Perfectly Safe
Um , thought Harry, who had not really considered until just now that the Sorting Hat would, of course, read his mind, and would therefore, of course, know he had already been Sorted.
This is highly irregular, sniffed the Hat. Thanks to his many frustrating years of Occlumency practice he could actually sort of feel it rifling gently through his memories. If he’d ever been any good at that maybe he could have pretended to be a real eleven-year-old, but, well… no.
He sighed internally. Look, it’s not my fault.
Wasn’t Merlin’s fault either and it was still very inconvenient! it complained. I am for Sorting children, Mr. Potter, not having extended philosophical debates about the nature of good and evil with grown adults.
Er, he thought, feeling wrong-footed, sorry? I … wasn’t really … planning any … debates?
The Hat conveyed, somehow, the strong impression of rolling its eyes. Yes you were, you had a whole argument queued up about how assassinating people totally counts as Gryffindor if they’re evil.
Okay, that was admittedly not false. He had thought of it more of a speech than a debate, but, you know, fair.
Though I can’t say I’m not pleased about all the heroism my counterfactual self apparently got up to in your memories, added the Hat. I don’t often get to do that sort of thing.
Huh. He had totally assumed that was just part of its core functionality.
Well, yes, it is, but Hogwarts hasn’t been attacked in earnest in centuries. And I’m almost never in the artistic depictions afterward, that’s very exciting! Usually it’s all about the Sword . The Sword of Gryffindor had of course been included in the art on Neville Longbottom’s chocolate frog card, which depicted him heroically decapitating Nagini, but the artist had also rightly depicted, centrally and prominently, the Sorting Hat perched on his head, dramatically alight. Harry had always thought Neville’s card was much cooler than his. And nothing against the Sword, of course, the Hat added fondly, continuing this thought, we’re friends, but -
You’re what , interrupted Harry. How do you be friends with - the Sword is a person???
… sort of. We can talk about it later if you must, all right, it’s already been almost forty-five seconds and I have a job to do.
This, Harry was not thrilled to be reminded of, because there was a reason he’d spent some time assembling justifications for his choices. He had considerably more respect for the virtues of Slytherin than he had when he first sat on this stool, but he still didn’t actually want to have Draco Malfoy for a roommate.
Oh, relax, snorted the Hat. I’m quite certain I only threatened you with Slytherin when you were eleven because you obviously needed to learn a lesson about self-determination, you’ve been a reckless idiot lion every damn minute of your life.
Then, “GRYFFINDOR,” it shouted, while Harry was recovering from trying to figure out whether to be offended.
He went and sat down next to Hermione. The Weasley twins (both of them!!) were dancing and shouting, as he distantly remembered them doing when he’d first met them, which was comforting in its way. Percy merely nodded politely at him, the responsible serious prefect, though at fifteen he hadn’t quite grown into his ears, which was differently comforting but familiar and soothing all the same; and the other Gryffindors, young and younger, gave him a wide array of fascinated, curious looks. Ron joined them a few minutes later, looking immensely relieved, and the instant the feast began, burst out, “what on Earth , who are you, that was insane?” at Hermione.
“Um,” said Hermione. She had folded her hands very carefully in her lap. “I’m Hermione Granger? What’s the matter?”
“You were under there for like forever! What were you talking about??”
Hermione opened her mouth, frowning, and was interrupted. “Don’t pry,” said Percy sharply to his little brother, “the Sorting is private and you’re being very rude.”
Ron subsided somewhat mulishly and was thankfully diverted shortly thereafter by the arrival of the ghosts, followed by another distantly familiar conversation about everyone’s family background and Neville’s tragic backstory. “And what about you, then?” asked Seamus excitedly, peering over his piled-high plate at Harry. “How are you not, like, dead?”
Lavender gave Seamus a slightly horrified look. “Why would he be?”
Seamus blinked, and visibly tracked back through the previous conversation in which Lavender had mentioned how she’d been raised by a Muggle mother who hadn’t mentioned her late wizard husband until the letter arrived. “Oh, you wouldn’t know, would you, sorry - he’s been famously missing for ages.”
Harry was trying not to look at the head table until enough people weren’t looking at him that he wouldn’t get questioned if he got stabbed in the forehead by Quirrell being Voldemort and failed not to flinch but it was hard to resist the urge to check if Dumbledore was watching him. “Um,” he said, “yeah, so, it’s actually all a really awkward misunderstanding? The Auror Office wants to arrest my godfather to do due process at him because he escaped Azkaban even though it turns out that that is not itself technically a crime but if they do that it creates some problems because I’m a minor and have no other relatives so we’ve been hiding.”
“What did he do that put him there, though?” asked Ron, while Parvati was whispering to Lavender and Dean an explanation of what Azkaban is.
“Nothing, actually, but they thought at the time for not unreasonable reasons that he did a bunch of murders,” Harry explained. “It’s all very stupid and hopefully at some point we’ll be able to resolve it in a nice lawful and orderly fashion.”
“And in the meantime…?” wondered Percy.
“In the meantime I will go to school, obviously,” said Harry, gesturing around him. “And over breaks I will just mysteriously disappear, it’ll be fine.”
To Harry’s delight, in the endearingly unsuspicious manner of children, everyone around him accepted this slightly insane response and moved on to talking about Quidditch.
This turned out to set something of a model for how the first year of Hogwarts would go. Whispers followed him everywhere through the first week of school as he’d rather expected, but he was used to that, and as merely a tiny eleven-year-old who’d been in the papers a lot six and ten years ago, he was mostly an interesting curiosity for everyone, not the absolute center of attention. Nobody was actively attacking him even a little bit. So really, it was very peaceful, on the scale of Hogwarts experiences he had had. Professor Flitwick, after he’d recovered from his excitement at seeing James and Lily’s son alive and healthy, commended his penmanship as he copied down the basic principles of Charms off the blackboard. In Transfiguration, McGonagall watched him carefully as she gave her safety lectures, as if resisting the urge to preemptively warn him off of doing any Marauder Nonsense in her class. Sprout, of course, was exactly as fondly motherly as she was toward all her students.
He didn’t volunteer information like Hermione did, hand perpetually in the air, but he didn’t pretend not to know things, either. This, and all the work he’d done to chill Hermione out over the last five years, did a lot of work toward smoothing the early formation of relationships between her and the rest of their classmates, even though it would still probably take more time than just the first week of classes before they didn’t find her even a little bit annoying. He was optimistic.
Friday of that first week, as they headed to the dungeons for double Potions with the Slytherins (“ugh,” he agreed with Ron), it occurred to him that he’d yet to have any irritating encounters with Draco Malfoy.
How odd .
He squinted over at the gaggle of Slytherins settling into pairs. Draco wasn’t missing, or anything; he was right there, sneering childishly at Blaise about something while Pansy and Tracy elbowed each other trying to be his partner. “Weird,” he muttered, settling into his accustomed spot next to Ron. To his right, Hermione had grabbed Neville and encouraged him into the seat next to her before Seamus could wildly inflate his explosion risk, leaving her roommates to pair off. That, he thought, was also somewhat weird, but Harry was willing to chalk it up to the fact that he’d been trying quite hard to be friends with both Neville and Ron and Hermione wanted to be included but didn’t like Ron. (Ha.)
“What’s weird?” wondered Ron curiously, since Snape wasn’t here yet.
Harry grinned encouragingly at Hermione as she patted Neville’s shoulder and said something presumably reassuring, and then explained to Ron, “Draco Malfoy hasn’t been an annoying barnacle even a little and we’ve been here almost a week.”
“He’s a stuck-up git who thinks we’re too good to talk to,” shrugged Ron, “what d’you expect?”
I expect him to spend all day every day hovering obnoxiously and making snide comments about my every move, Harry didn’t say, because that would be stupid actually. “I guess.”
Snape swept into the room at this point and made a dramatic speech, which completely failed to pass through Harry’s brain at all.
Instead, his thoughts seemed to have been totally replaced with an uncomfortable buzzing noise, a swarm of disconnected memories and sense impressions descending upon him like horrible vengeful bees. Snape shouting, sneering, smirking, coldly glaring - Snape dying, tears running down his face, begging forgiveness without words - teenaged Snape shrieking, laughing, staring in terror - the cold sick horror of watching Snape standing atop the Astronomy Tower with Dumbledore at the point of his wand -
“Potter!” Snape snapped sharply, and Harry nearly startled out of his chair.
“Y-yes, Professor?” he managed, desperately shoving the nauseous terror into the back of his mind and praying it wasn’t making his hair literally stand on end.
As a child Snape’s expressions had seemed unreadable. To Harry now, who knew the man better than perhaps even Dumbledore, it was as though he had I’m very bitter that your safety is my only reason for living and so I’m going to make you miserable too stamped in neon red on his forehead. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?” he demanded.
“The first step of a draught of living death,” said Harry promptly.
It wasn’t that he remembered what bullshit questions he’d been asked, so many years ago, and not understood. It would have been too petty, even for him, to go out of his way to memorize the answers. But one of the last things Harry had done before he left Hogwarts, to return only for the Battle, had been to pass the sixth-year Potions final Horace Slughorn had set him. Annoyed though he had been to discover who he’d been taking advice from all year, he’d genuinely learned the material, and frankly he was not here to pander to Snape’s ego no matter how much he had eventually come to respect the man.
Snape blinked in surprise. “Skimmed your textbook before you came to class, did you?” he sneered, after a split second’s hesitation to choose a new tack. “Thought you’d show off a little? Well, Mr. Potter, I can assure you that this class will not be as easy as memorizing a few simple facts.”
He was pretty sure the recipe for the Draught of Living Death was absolutely nowhere in Magical Drafts and Potions or for that matter any potions textbook below the NEWT level, but it seemed pointless to say so. Instead he shrugged. “I’m not here to show off, Professor, I’m here to listen. I don’t answer questions in class unless I’m specifically called on, ask anybody.”
Snape squinted suspiciously at him but did not immediately have a comeback for that, so he instead shifted gears to yelling at the class in general and setting them to brewing boil-curing potions. This suited Harry just fine.
It was early the next week when it occurred to him that he wasn’t getting weird sharp pains in his forehead in Defense class.
Quirrell was stammering his way through an explanation of the defensive function of the body-bind curse against large mundane animals, tugging nervously on the loose end of his turban, when Harry thought to wonder about this. Had it been just a few times, that first year? In some ways that made sense, he supposed. If he’d consistently gotten a headache whenever he was around Quirrell it would have been really obvious - it would have been impossible to spend all of his first year convinced Snape was the one trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone, right?
But it’d certainly happened more than just once, he thought, enough that he’d thought it was evidence even though he was at the time misinterpreting it due to various circumstances. He’d have written off just once as unimportant, a coincidence. Or had he just thought Defense unrelatedly gave him a tension headache? The class as taught straight from the textbook by stammering Quirrell was incredibly boring, but it shouldn’t have been that boring when he was actually eleven and knew zero facts about Defense. It was of course now considerably more boring than the rest of his classes except maybe History, but not literally pain-inducing even from the vantage point of ‘could literally teach this class.’
Voldemort was probably there, though, missing pains in his head or no. Quirrell was stammery and possessed and garlicky just as Harry remembered him. He wasn’t really looking forward to having to do all the nonsense with the traps, though. Maybe he could just … grab him? It’d probably be fiiiiiiioh wait no Dumbledore thought he was evil and this would not be improved by setting his professor on fire in a blatantly premeditated manner. Damn.
Harry was still thinking about this, grumpily, when he noticed that he was following Ron outside to the grounds for a flying lesson. Right. That … was a thing. He had attended exactly one (1) Hogwarts flying lesson in his life before being promptly exempted by virtue of being put on the Quidditch team, and as he recalled, Neville Longbottom had ended up in the hospital wing.
And also he’d gotten into a fight with Draco, and wasn’t that why they’d been in detention with Hagrid the night he met Voldemort the second time?
… if he didn’t get in trouble would someone else end up awkwardly face to face with Quirrelmort eating a unicorn? Should he… pick a fight with Draco on purpose?
That would be stupid, right?
(Draco hadn’t spoken a word to him. Had someone warned him off? Who? Why?)
A few minutes later, Hooch squinted bemusedly at him as he absently hovered in place, in perfect hands-free control of his dented school broomstick, gently adjusting Neville’s grip. “Good form, Potter,” she said. “Who taught you?”
“My godfather,” he said cheerfully.
She nodded sharply, once, and moved on to helping the rest of the class. Ron, to Harry’s immense surprise and delight, was actually helping Hermione and the rest of the Gryffindors in a not completely obnoxious manner; he seemed incredibly pleased with himself to get to be the local expert. Eventually, Hooch was satisfied, and gave them instructions to kick off carefully from the ground on the count of three.
“Three, two -”
Neville panicked, jumped, squeaked, and shot upward.
Harry smoothly grabbed the handle of Neville’s broomstick, murmuring a stabilizing charm and wrenching him back down to the ground. Oliver Wood didn’t need to win the Quidditch Cup this year and Neville had been terrified of flying for the rest of his life.
“ - one,” said Madam Hooch, blinking owlishly at him, and Harry pulled Neville gently into the air with him as everyone else lifted off.
“There you go, see!” he said brightly. Neville opened his scrunched-shut eyes and peered at the ground, just a foot below. Harry still had a firm hand on his broom. “See, not so bad, right? Just relax and listen,” Madam Hooch had begun to explain how to stabilize yourself in the air before attempting any more elaborate maneuvers, “and you’ll do fine!”
“Y-yeah,” said Neville, his shoulders slowly dropping from around his ears and a smile beginning to take shape on his round face. “Yeah. Okay. Not so bad. Thanks, Harry.”
In retrospect, Harry would feel really, really stupid about how quickly he relaxed into the environment of Hogwarts.
But it was safe, there, and he was surrounded by the cheerful untraumatized optimistic young versions of nearly everyone he loved. Nothing in particular loomed immediately and ominously on the horizon. It was easy to just … help Ron with his homework, and supervise Neville slowly learning to fly, and contentedly make his way at a leisurely pace through the library’s stock of interesting books about the history of broomsticks, and fondly prod Hermione into taking a break from studying to play Exploding Snap with Dean and Seamus, and patiently listen to Lavender talk at length about her rabbit and Parvati tell stories about childhood adventures in the woods near her house, and visit Hagrid for tea on Friday afternoons. And, of course slip out through the Willow on random days, to hang out with Sirius and occasionally accomplish Shenanigans. They still hadn’t figured out how to get into Lucius Malfoy’s secret vault, but the list of known Death Eaters who could reasonably participate if a war broke out again was growing shorter.
He sort of absent-mindedly encouraged Ron and the twins as they speculated about what might be behind the hidden door on the third floor, and smiled guilelessly at Dumbledore whenever the headmaster passed by.
As he had promised his classmates at the opening feast, he mysteriously disappeared over the winter break. No mysterious spike in unsolved crimes occurred during this time, of course, since such an obvious data point indicating the shenanigans were connected to a Hogwarts student would be just asking for trouble.
No, he was busy with another type of trouble: the Delacours had extended an invitation to “the Murphys” to join them for an extended family Christmas, adding cheerily that the maternal uncle Harry sometimes mentioned would certainly also be welcome.
“Do we tell them?” he asked Sirius, staring at himself (dark-haired, green-eyed, scarred) in the mirror, as they got ready to go. “I mean I knew I was going to have to say something eventually , there’d be no keeping the secret past the Triwizard Tournament, but we already told Hermione. Is it worse to wait? I don’t want to have this conversation, but.”
“Probably?” said Sirius, absent-mindedly rearranging the pile of presents on the kitchen table. “Hermione forgave you because she understood it was for security before you went to Hogwarts, right? Fleur might, too, but if you wait, without that reason you’re just - lying to her, just because. She’s your family, isn’t she? She deserves to know.”
It wasn’t that Hermione and Fleur, his sisters-in-future-law, weren’t his family, of course. Or that Sirius and Remus, the approximate uncles who he had once lost and could have now again, weren’t everything he could have hoped they would be. But there was still a giant gaping hole in his chest where the Weasleys lived, where Ron and Percy and the twins had cheerfully taken up residence in the first few months of the school year but not quite filled in the space where there should have also been Bill and Charlie and Molly and Arthur and Teddy and Victoire and Ginny , his wife, the love of his life, currently ten years old and only distantly aware that he existed.
He wasn’t expecting a sweater this year. Maybe one day again, in the future, when he’d actually gotten properly acquainted again? But he was no longer the alarmingly underweight eleven-year-old whose complete unawareness that anyone would ever want to give him a Christmas present had motivated Ron to send his mother an extremely panicked last-minute owl. Ron had every reason to believe that his cheerful and unsettlingly competent best friend Harry, who had left under everyone’s baffled and astonished stares by disappearing with a jaunty wave into the Forbidden Forest, obviously did not have this problem.
But - “Yeah,” he said.
So he steeled himself and gathered up the presents and went to France.
Fleur almost immediately dragged him off out of earshot of her parents and settled him into a chair and fixed him with her eagle-like stare, because her determined crusade as of late to pretend she didn’t care very much about other people’s feelings had never meant she didn’t notice. “Something is wrong. Tell me,” she demanded.
“I um,” said Harry. “So, er, as you know, I started at Hogwarts this year.”
“Yes,” said Fleur, “and I was fully expecting to hear your extensive opinions about the curriculum, you adorable tiny dork, but instead you look like you met Merlin and he told you your favorite Quidditch player is secretly a cabbage.”
Okay, it was possible he had not been doing a perfect job pretending to have a normal eleven-year-old level of interest in what spells he was going to learn. Whatever, Sirius was always casting weird spells Harry had taught him, she’d assume the causality ran in the other direction. “Yeah, so, uh,” there was really no good way to bring this up cold, was there, with Hermione the reveal had been mostly that he was magic at all - “uh, Adrian Murphy doesn’t go to Hogwarts, though.”
Fleur frowned at him.
“Adrian Murphy isn’t my real name. It’s a fake identity to keep me from being assassinated before I was old enough to go to school. I don’t look like this really. My name’s Harry Potter.”
There was a long pause while Fleur processed this.
Harry waited, anxiously, trying to resist the urge to fidget with his glasses.
Eventually: “Harry Potter,” Fleur said, in a very tight, icy voice, “has no Veela ancestry.”
“Not, um, not to my knowledge, no.”
Deep breath. “ Why ,” she hissed, teeth gritted around the urge to screech and evidently doing her utmost not to blow his eardrums off, “would you do that? What, did you just want an excuse to meet my Papa? He wasn’t even that famous six years ago! What could possibly have made you think you should just lie about - about - we are not even a little related!”
“But we are though,” protested Harry, desperately, before he quite thought that through.
Dangerous frown. “How. Exactly. Are we possibly. Related . Adri - Mr. Potter , you’re, you’re not even French! You have no -”
He turned into a falcon.
There was a long, puzzled pause.
“ ………….. so that’s why you smell like us, is it,” said Fleur, her incandescent fury stumbling slightly as it attempted to process this new, somehow even weirder information.
He turned back, nodding, and staring uncomfortably at his shoes as Fleur stared at his de-Transfigured real face. “I um. It’s super illegal, right? And you came running down the street at me demanding to know why I smelled like birds and I panicked and - and -” deep breath, you can do this, you’re a grown-ass adult who can use your words , “ - and then you were my family.”
Fleur frowned at him.
“I was, in my defense, five,” he added, even though that was kind of not true.
“You didn’t tell me! You could at any point have told me!”
He sighed. “It was kind of important that I - I mean, I as Harry Potter - basically not exist until it was time for me to go to Hogwarts? A lot of people want me dead.” And he could in theory have defended himself, but it would have been exhausting and he wasn’t perfect and for all his hard-earned magical combat skills it was actually still pretty difficult to fight properly when you were the size of an elementary schooler and with the Diadem of Ravenclaw conspicuously missing he couldn’t afford to assume his enemies were not actively looking for him. “So I couldn’t really. I’m sorry.”
“Gabrielle loves you,” sighed Fleur. “What am I supposed to tell her.”
“For that matter what am I supposed to tell Maman, she can smell it too.”
“I don’t know! If I had a clever plan for this I would have said something much sooner!” sighed Harry despairingly. In the distance, he could hear Gabrielle shrieking with delight - Sirius was probably levitating her, she loved that - and it wasn’t making him feel less incredibly guilty.
But you are my family, you are, you’re married to my brother, I lived in your house for a year when everyone was trying to kill me, I gave your daughter her first tiny broomstick and taught her to ride it -
“She’s going to be pretty mad at, um, at my dad, probably,” he said, instead.
“I should think so!” shrilled Fleur, vibrating slightly in place with frustration. “ He wasn’t five, he knew what he was doing when he said - when he told us - who even is he, Potter, your parents are extremely famously dead .”
“He’s, er, actually my godfather, he and my dad were best friends.” Awkward pause. “Um, relatedly, the late Evelyn Murphy is entirely fictional, he’s never been married.”
Fleur squinted at him. “Why on Earth is he immune to Maman, then? Is he gay?”
Harry made a face. “I think he, um, bats for both teams,” please don’t ask him how he knows this he really does not want to think about it thank you, “but only in theory because he’s also traumatized?”
“Yeah it’s sort of depressing. A totally unreasonable number of things in my life are.”
There was another long, awkward silence, and then Fleur sighed. “Ugh, stop making that sad face, honestly - look, I’m going to be very mad at you for a while, but I’m not going to kick you out and never speak to you again.”
“No?” said Harry hopefully.
“Not unless Gabrielle insists,” she said, with a somewhat edged but sincere smirk.
The follow-up conversation with Monsieur and Madame Delacour was, if possible, even more awkward. There was rather a lot of yelling and some wands were brandished, though no spells were actually thrown.
But Fleur, ice-cold and steady, was surprisingly firm that even if his name was Harry and not Adrian, he was still her beloved cousin and nothing else really mattered. “After all,” she said, in a quiet vulnerable voice Harry hadn’t heard since she was ten, “we never really thought we were blood related, did we? I just decided it must be true because I was profoundly lonely and you all nodded and smiled because you didn’t want to tell me no.”
“Oh, cherie,” sighed Apolline, very effectively distracted from wondering why exactly the famous English hero Harry Potter smelled like he had Veela ancestry in the first place. She glanced at Sirius, who had very recently been apologizing extensively for letting his five-year-old talk him into making wildly irresponsible ethical choices. He was sitting on the floor, very carefully not moving, because Gabrielle kept hugging his arm and then running away and then running back, frowning in puzzlement at his real face, to try again. “Should we not have?”
Fleur laughed. For a moment, Harry could see the ghost of the steely adult she would grow into stamped across her face. “Maman, I have every hope that when I have my own children I will love them so much as to make stupid emotional decisions for them, too.”
He in fact did not get a Weasley sweater. Even though he’d expected it, he couldn’t help feeling like he must have, somewhere, screwed something up.
But when he got back to Hogwarts, all the same there was Ron, effusively happy. Ron had had a great winter break, apparently, and was burning to tell him all about how he’d beat Percy at chess and landed a whole two hits on the twins in snowball fights and figured out that the three-headed dog was hiding a trapdoor and Hagrid has possibly gotten tricked into telling somebody the password and probably He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is after whatever used to be in Gringotts and is clearly now in the bowels of Hogwarts -
And that was, for all its concerningness, soothingly familiar.
So he nodded, and smiled, and told Ron how clever he was, and turned in his homework, and watched Hermione interrogate Ron about his findings and subsequently give an extended lecture on French magical research history, and it did not actually occur to him that the first time this had happened Hermione had had to look up Nicolas Flamel.
This, also, he would feel very stupid about, later.
Chapter 19: The Yawning Void
In which we finally get to the scene I wrote this whole dang story for. I promise it gets less depressing from here.
To Harry’s great surprise, Gryffindor seemed to have a not entirely impossible shot at the Quidditch Cup without his help. Oliver, in the absence of the miracle discovery of Harry, had somehow induced Percy to play Seeker for him, and Percy, while not quite as talented as his siblings and flying the oldest broom of the lot (Bill’s relatively ancient Shooting Star), could in fact fly quite well and had excellent attention to detail.
Harry contemplated with fondness the way Percy smiled, guarded and confused and warm, when his brothers and his roommate hugged him and cheered, and felt very good about his decision to help Neville over joining the team. He even seriously considered buying a Nimbus 2000 to deliver as an anonymous gift, but he didn’t super want to put Percy in the frame of mind to remember that time he woke up to a missing rat and a bunch of gold on his bedside table. He’d still tell the truth if asked, of course, but he certainly wasn’t enthusiastic about explaining what the fuck was up with that...
Eventually, the easy camaraderie of Hogwarts slipped by, and they sat their final exams. Neville and Ron were somewhat difficult to wrangle into studying instead of anxiously discussing whether they should do something about Snape trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone, but Hermione, of course, had been backing Harry up when he kept telling them to focus on their homework and just keep an eye out, because “Snape” (ha) certainly wouldn’t try anything with Dumbledore around.
Harry spent much of the dinner before the last Quidditch match wondering when the schedule had changed to make it after, instead of before, the final exams. Had McGonagall deliberately rejiggered it in 1993, he wondered, rightly suspecting that if she let the season last all the way to the end of the school year, she would yet again lose her star player to some sort of horrible shenanigan? Hermione, of course, was agonizing over her exam results, muttering to herself about whether she should have phrased her answers differently to be more exactingly correct and pushing her potatoes absently around her plate.
So it was Ron, who for all his interpersonal obliviousness had the visual field alertness of a child who had grown up in the same building as Fred and George, that said, “hey, where’s Dumbledore?”, making Neville look up, connect the dots, and gasp in horror.
In another world, sitting on top of what looked for all the world, to a pair of eleven-year-olds, like a plot to resurrect the Dark Lord that no one else knew about, they might have gone to Percy and the twins for help, desperate for anyone remotely qualified to handle something they felt much too young for. In this world, though, they had Harry and Hermione, apparently-brilliant due to time travel and genuinely a prodigy, respectively. And Ron’s first instinct had always been to problem-solve with his own peers first and ask for help from older siblings only as a very last resort.
This is how Harry found himself, some hours later, standing in front of a distantly familiar potions riddle, with little tiny determined Hermione Granger at his side.
Neville and Ron, of course, were on the way to the hospital wing. They’d had a whole shouting match in the middle of the chess game about Ron trying to sacrifice himself, which Ron had won mostly by virtue of insisting that it was the only strategic possibility and Neville not knowing quite enough about chess to contest it. He’d landed on his feet after being thrown off the board, because Harry tagged him surreptitiously with a shield charm, but this had turned out to be a mistake because when he continued to shout instructions from the sidelines one of the bishops had stomped over and hit him again and now he probably had a concussion. Harry was a little worried that Neville had missed out on the “standing up to your friends is sometimes right and necessary” lesson in lieu of a very concerning and unintended “if you trust Ron to take care of himself he ends up recklessly unconscious and now you have to carry him to Madam Pomfrey” lesson, but he was hoping that it hadn’t really been a lesson Neville needed to learn - just the first time he’d had the opportunity to display his ethical backbone to his friends.
There had been, afterward, no troll, unconscious or otherwise.
On the bright side, this sort of answered Harry’s months-old pointless curiosity about whether it was the same one he had been expecting on Halloween and which had been mysteriously absent, but also, it was really very weird and he had a bad feeling about it.
Hermione was gazing thoughtfully at the riddle.
Harry was wondering whether he should have tried to send her back with Ron, give them some time to try to bond a little and make Neville feel better about being disincluded from the Final Battle™. He could cast a flame-freezing charm just fine and didn’t actually need the solution to the riddle, after all. But, although he was a little irrationally offended in retrospect that Dumbledore had felt they needed heroism training wheels, it genuinely had, he thought, been good for Hermione, this opportunity to use her skillset and then make a heartfelt speech about the virtues of Gryffindor and have that work . And probably that was the point, the reason Dumbledore had still assembled the whole stupid little fairytale dungeon even though he knew Harry wasn’t exactly the Harry he’d been expecting and wouldn’t need the self-esteem boost he’d needed when he was really eleven: he’d let what he thought might be Tom Riddle over again come back to Hogwarts because he wanted Harry to make friends, to identify himself as the hero who would oppose Voldemort rather than a puppet of the Dark Lord.
What better way than to give him this opportunity to bond with his classmates, right?
But he didn’t really want any of them watching, if this turned into a real fight.
“You should go back with Ron and Neville,” Harry said, when she’d picked out the potions that would send one person forward, and one back, through Snape’s ridiculous flaming portals. He was gazing somewhat abstractedly at them, not even really looking at her, thinking about how best to handle the upcoming confrontation depending on whether the Mirror randomly handed him the damn Stone in the middle of the conversation again. Would the spirit of Voldemort believe he was really a child? Should he even try to pretend? “Go get Dumbledore,” he added. “I’ll be fine, Voldemort can’t kill me .”
In Harry’s peripheral vision, Hermione grinned, much too wide, and something in her hair glinted strangely in the torchlight and skittered, jagged, across the threat recognition centers of Harry’s brain. He blinked, and for a second the void yawned under him, a horrible incomprehensible doom looming just out of reach, like the shadows in a Foe-Glass.
“Are you,” she inquired, “
sure about that?”
Harry ignored this feeling, because it made absolutely one hundred percent zero sense and he was pretty sure he was just nervous and imagining things. “I mean... he’s tried pretty hard and it’s never worked?” pointed out Harry, unsettled, reaching for the forward potion. Maybe he could regain his mental footing if he just downed it real quick and made a pithy quip on his way through the -
“We’ll see,” said Hermione, and kicked his ankles out from under him.
A few dozen floors up, Ron and Neville were trying to explain to Dumbledore that Harry and Hermione had heroically gone in to try to stop Snape from stealing Flamel’s immortality for Voldemort.
Dumbledore, caught between the sheer irony of their misdirected suspicion and his delight that his plan to save the tiny possessed child with the power of friendship appeared to have totally worked, and had even, for bonus points, perfectly caught up in it the descendants of the last war’s heroes and the undisputed most talented student of the year, was laughing somewhat hysterically, clapping his hands with glee.
Ron and Neville were, therefore, exchanging very confused glances while Madam Pomfrey bustled around patching them up. “Is, um, is he okay,” asked Neville uncertainly, after it had gone on for at least a minute.
“He’s like this sometimes, don’t worry about it,” said Madam Pomfrey cheerfully.
“ What the hell, ” said Harry, whose brain had temporarily stopped working properly at the discovery that he was on the ground with a twelve-year-old girl’s foot planted firmly on his sternum and his wand held casually in her hand pointed at his nose, and was unable to generate any more complex questions.
“Oh, come on,” said Hermione. “Don’t pretend to be surprised. The plausibly deniable banter was charming but the time for that is over. I caught you off-guard worrying about your friends and now I win.”
“What?” repeated Harry. “You win?? Win what ???”
Hermione raised an eyebrow, clearly puzzled by his confusion. “The war, Harry.”
Harry did not really have a response to that answer because his brain was full of question marks. After casting around helplessly for something to say, eventually “Are you Voldemort?” was what he landed on, because what and also what the fuck and also what but ‘it’s secretly Voldemort, somehow’ had historically been a pretty solid fallback hypothesis for, like, most if not all problems in his life.
“What?” said Hermione. She squinted at him. “Did you … not … know this?”
Of all the things she could have said in response to this question, this answer was somehow even more confusing than any of even the most unlikely things he’d imagined. “ What ?”
Because he was Harry Potter, his confusion did not actually stop him from attempting to respond appropriately and promptly. But when he tried to twist out from under her and summon his wand into his hand, with intent to follow up with several hexes and a punch in the face for good measure, she very smoothly sidestepped, tripped him again, and conjured a large steel spike through both his shoulder and a substantial chunk of the stone floor.
“...Why would I possibly have known that,” he gritted, instead, while she was smirking smugly about his unsuccessful further attempts to get up off the floor.
“I thought I was being really obvious!” said Hermione, who was apparently secretly Voldemort, somehow.
“ In what possible way .”
“I set a child on fire right in front of you!”
Okay, yeah, she did do that, but, “You acted like it was an accident!”
“Yes, for plausible deniability, obviously . And come on, I haven’t been subtle since we got here, either, surely you didn’t seriously think your first-year friend was this well-educated five minutes after learning magic existed?”
In retrospect he was now starting to recognize the signs he’d ignored of her knowing slightly too many things. But - “I honestly did! Hermione is the smartest person I’ve ever met! She just knows everything, I expect this as a fundamental constant of reality!”
She snorted derisively. “Okay, sure. Do you also expect her to - to -” she made a horrifying noise somewhere between a resentful sigh and a frustrated screech, and took a deep breath. “You horrible, awful child, you didn’t even notice me trying to murder you, did you.”
The void was threatening to crawl into Harry’s eardrums and ban him from taking in any new information until he had recontextualized all the things in the last six years he’d completely disregarded like an utter and complete idiot. He blinked rapidly. “I … did not, no.”
“You’re the absolute fucking worst, you know that,” said Hermione, in a poisonously pleasant conversational tone, toying idly with his wand. “I spent five weeks befriending the house elves and another three getting my targeting precise enough to poison your breakfast without anyone else noticing and you cast half a dozen cleansing charms under the table without even interrupting your stupid conversation about stupid Quidditch. Curses in thirty-nine languages that no one else in this school has ever heard of just bounce off of your perfect bloody nonexistent future shield charms and I thought, great, I’ve finally met an interesting challenge. Nine weeks I spent unraveling the absurd defenses on your school trunk in chunks while you were asleep and found nothing but owl treats and half-assed Charms homework! You seriously did this to me by ACCIDENT??”
Harry contemplated this.
He indeed had not noticed any attempts to curse, poison, pickpocket, hex, murder, or otherwise inconvenience him. Had Mad-Eye rubbed off on him so badly at this point that he was just habitually performing paranoia without even really paying attention ?
That seemed … not totally impossible but kind of weird … on reflection he totally did keep all his interesting possessions on his person at all times and maintain persistent low-energy personal shields and automatically charm any food he didn’t make himself and all that, but usually he would notice if someone actively tried to cast a spell on him…
… oh, wait, it was 1992 and he was still awash with maternal heart magic, wasn’t he.
“Ohh,” said Harry, “no, there’s totally a reasonable explanation for this.”
There was a pause. Hermione raised her eyebrows expectantly at him.
“What? I’m not going to tell you, you were already smarter than me even before you possessed the most brilliant person I know by, I can only assume, gluing a corrupted wisdom artifact to her head, figure that shit out your augh ,” she had just stomped somewhat petulantly on the spike, “ow, your fuckin’ self, jeez, unnecessary.”
“This is about the bloody prophecy, isn’t it,” she said, glaring down at him. “Which, of course, is the one thing you didn’t tell your dog before you sent him to go fetch.”
Huh. On reflection, he indeed had not told Sirius the actual word-for-word contents of the prophecy, and was feeling very fortunate for it. It hadn’t been intentional, he just didn’t like thinking about it, and it hadn’t really been relevant. He’d just mentioned it somewhat in passing, as he was covering ten years of story in a few hours, as the starting point for his life, which in the end had really come down to Voldemort crafting his own downfall from whole cloth.
“Excuse you, Sirius is a person and what the hell did you do to him, anyway?”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “I just memory charmed him. No point torturing him to death, he was so usefully keeping you busy annoying the Aurors and it probably wouldn’t even have been entertaining, his brother wasn’t.”
Of course Regulus was boring, it’s impossible to have fun within a thousand yards of you , snarked some part of Harry’s brain that really wanted this to be a friendly conversation, because she still looked like one of his dearest friends, but he wrestled it down, because this was Voldemort, actually, and said, instead, unhappily, “Did you do something to Draco, too?”
She laughed. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“I would,” he grumbled, contemplating his odds of wandlessly Vanishing the spike fast enough to pull the Elder Wand out of the mokeskin pouch under his shirt and break her shields before she came up with some other painful way to injure him without technically casting a spell directly on him. She had gotten reflexes from somewhere, when did tha - oh right she’d been taking weekly martial arts lessons for years. He’d even noticed, and thought it was weird. Right. Terrible. “Why are you even here ?”
Hermione stared at him. “God, I’m at war with an actual moron,” she said.
“Rude,” mumbled Harry. Maybe if he kept her villain-monologuing long enough Dumbledore would show up. Although, would that even help? Would she pretend to be innocent harmless twelve-year-old Hermione, and be believed? Even if Harry could prove she was Horcruxed, technically speaking, there was probably no reliable magical way to distinguish between ‘possessed due to Horcrux’ and ‘Horcrux, but not possessed though, I swear.’ And he’d been going around breaking laws while she sat quietly in her parents’ house reading books (or wait oh jeez had she been sneaking out and doing god only knew what every time he wasn’t looking directly at her of course she had -) “No, seriously though,” he said, “this can’t possibly be strategically relevant at this point, I’m just really curious because I don’t understand you at all, you could’ve just left and done whatever you felt like, why come to Hogwarts and pretend to be Hermione?”
He was so, so hoping that the answer was because I am still human, somewhere, and I love Hogwarts just like you do, but it was not to be. Hermione scoffed at him. “The Stone, you broomstick-addled Flobberworm. Obviously .”
“Oh. Right.” Pause. “Did you have a plan for convincing me to get it out of the Mirror for you? Because, and I really cannot stress this enough, go fuck yourself.”
She, apparently wholly reflexively, attempted to Cruciate him, and sighed resignedly when this failed utterly to have any effect.
“You could just give up,” suggested Harry. “Save us all the trouble.”
“And have wasted all that effort trying to make your revolting friends like me? Not a chance.” She visibly contemplated and discarded several ideas for moving him without being able to levitate him, and eventually just Conjured rope and physically dragged him, laboriously, through Snape’s flaming portal.
“OW,” complained Harry, who was on fire now.
“Oh no!” said Hermione, smirking. “I would love to offer you a Flame-Freezing Charm, but it turns out I can’t cast spells on you! What a tragedy.”
“Ha ha yes I sure did walk right into that one I don’t regret killing you one fucking bit,” grated Harry, squirming very ineffectually on the floor.
“Good thing it worked so well!” chirped Hermione. “I’m very dead, as you can see.”
Also not as dead as expected, it seemed, was Professor Quirinius Quirrell. He, apparently, was standing sort of near the Mirror of Erised looking kind of confused, in the manner of someone who has been Imperiused for an extended period of time and isn’t really sure where they are. He frowned at them as they arrived and attempted to cast a flame-freezing charm on Harry, on the apparent hypothesis that no context is really necessary for it to be bad for someone to be immolated. Hermione, however, batted the attempt away with a shield charm and then disarmed Quirrell. He blinked in alarm.
“What are you doing here?” said Harry, somehow startled both by how unexpected this was and how entirely expected. He tried for a desperate flaming grab of the nearest thing. This turned out to be Hermione’s ankle and she kicked him, causing his sense of direction to spin wildly as he hit the floor again due to all of his normal proprioceptive sensory inputs having been replaced with burning.
“I, uh,” said Quirrell, looking at his empty wand hand, then at Hermione. “I am … standing? Apparently?” Clearly uncertain whether this was the correct answer, he looked around again, hoping the room might spontaneously generate an explanation for what he was doing in an apparently random underground cavern with an extremely ornate magic mirror and two first-year Hogwarts students, one of them actively on fire, and the other apparently of a firm opinion that this should remain the case. When no answers materialized, he sat down on the floor in moderate despair.
“Be quiet,” said Hermione, although he didn’t seem inclined to say anything else. Which was understandable, all things considered; even immensely stubborn Crouch Sr had had immense trouble stringing sentences together after his somewhat similar ordeal.
(Hm, had he remembered to explain the whole deal with Crouch Junior to Sirius, or had he just glossed past it as ‘and then it turned out it had been a Death Eater who was Polyjuiced as Mad-Eye the whole time, and…’ when he was telling that story? Harry could not remember, perhaps because even with a lot of practice resisting Cruciatus and the incredible physical resilience of magical children it was still really hard to think around the AUGH FIRE OW WHY.)
Hermione shoved him, with her shoe, until he was lying in front of the Mirror of Erised.
It doesn’t work to just not look , he thought with a resigned sigh, though he would take the excuse of looking into it properly to carefully and painfully sit up. The Mirror, after all, cares about who’s standing directly in front of it more than it cares about your actual eyeballs. If it respected line of sight in a remotely normal way, either you’d be able to see other people’s visions or more than one person would be able to see theirs at once.
But on the bright side:
“My deepest desire at this time,” reported Harry wryly, “is to not be on fire.”
Somewhere in the distance, Sirius was sprawled on his living room rug, idly practicing fine transfiguration on a floating chess piece. “I think today is probably the day Harry does adorable tiny child team bonding heroism,” he said, to Remus, who was sitting in an armchair with a novel.
“Okay,” said Remus, with fond resignation. What he actually meant was that’s an insane thing to say that makes no sense whatsoever, Sirius , but at this point he just didn’t bother because he’d end up saying it twice a week. At least Sirius seemed happy, and Harry seemed happy, and that was two more nice things than he’d imagined ten years ago he might ever have in his life again.
“Mark my words, charming letter about how proud he is of his friends for helping him heroically defeat a bunch of cute riddles, tonight or tomorrow, latest.” Sirius smirked. “I think Dumbledore wants them to have slightly more guidance than we did.”
Remus contemplated this assertion. “Valid thing for him to want I suppose.”
Back in the hidden chamber below Hogwarts, Hermione snorted derisively and Conjured a great deal of water on Harry’s head. He made a disgruntled noise that was somewhere between annoyance, relief, and continued pain.
Once he was merely painfully singed and not actively burning, arguably unfortunately, the image of himself in a nice cool bath started to wobble. Okay, he thought, okay, I can do this, this was fine, all he had to do was… think selfish thoughts, right? Hello, Mirror, my greatest desire is definitely to steal the Philosopher’s Stone and turn that jerk over there into gold that I can melt down into jewelry to give as totally unnecessary gifts, you don’t want to give it to me, I will clearly use it for personal gain -
The Mirror of Erised resolved itself into the warm red-brown tones of the Burrow, an image of himself back in his adult shape, with Ginny draping herself contentedly over his shoulder and ruffling his hair. In the background Molly was bustling around happily setting up for a dinner party, fondly supervising her eldest sons as they attempted to teach Teddy how to knead bread dough, and grey-haired Remus and Arthur were quietly drinking tea and listening to Percy and Fleur argue about tariffs while Padfoot pranced around with little Victoire on his back, dodging balls of glitter lobbed in his direction by Tonks and the twins. And of course, in close focus, there were Ron and Hermione, holding hands, laughing.
Stop that, c’mon, you’re supposed to show what I want to see -
But he had never actually been good at lying, to himself or anyone else. His deepest desire had always been the big, happy family he had been denied as a child, that he’d had, briefly, before he was flung headlong into the past, that he was trying so hard to build again. He could string together as many sentences as he wanted insisting that he’d use the Philosopher’s Stone to get even richer and become immortal and so on, but he had all the money he’d ever need already and when he’d lived a full life here with his chosen family he wanted to go home to his parents.
If actually given the Philosopher’s Stone, he’d hand it straight back to Flamel.
And so the imaginary Ginny, smiling softly at him, plucked it from the space between the air, and put it gently in his pocket.
God damn it - thought Harry, and then, with the advantage of being facing away from Hermione because she couldn’t stand between him and the Mirror while forcing him to look into it, pulled the Elder Wand from where it was hidden. As she, sensing or maybe just observing with her eyes the new weight in his robe pocket, crowed victoriously, he wheeled, and nailed her in the nose with a shieldbreaker that would probably have seriously injured a building.
She responded to this by cackling delightedly as her shields shattered like glass around her, dodging his follow-up, casting something that made the walls ring with shrieking cacophony, and then trying to summon the Stone.
He grabbed it left-handed out of the air, mentally thanking Oliver Wood for endless annoying drills as his vision swam and dimmed. What the hell even was that, it sounded like the unholy horror-child of banshee and a Mandrake and it - just -
- kept -
- going -
Shaking his head violently, Harry cast a deafening charm on himself while he backpedaled and tried to gauge his options for just running away.
(dodge whatever that was - paint her with super glue just to slow her down - )
On the one hand, he was not and had never been equipped to take on Voldemort in a fair fight. He’d historically gotten away with it with a combination of wand shenanigans, sheer luck, and the tendency of the seventy-year-old Dark Lord to assume that he was incompetent because he was a teenager. Nearly fully embodied, armed with an ancient artifact of wisdom that was almost certainly boosting Hermione’s already very high level of ability to hold very complicated spells in her brain in mid-combat, and apparently well aware that he was a time-travelled adult, this Voldemort was an enemy who was both a very serious threat and prepared to treat him as the same.
( - brute force the banshee hex - shield - no, bad instinct, useless - fumble jinx - scrape needles out of the air - )
On the other hand, was it really a fair fight? Right now she couldn’t cast spells directly on him, which was a huge combat handicap even now that she wasn’t also trying to pretend to be an innocent child, and all his instincts were very upset with the idea of treating Hermione Granger of all people as a hostile agent but he didn’t usually try to kill people anyway so his combat reflexes weren’t actually colliding with that too badly, and while he missed his Fawkes-feather wand very intensely right now he did in fact have the Elder Wand.
( - melt the spontaneous sandpit into a glass slide to dodge a fireball - undeafen himself so he could hear her footsteps again - try an exhaustion hex - oh jeez shield against the damnit that’s such a waste of energy he needs to stop doing that - )
On the third hand, the Wand hadn’t been enough for even Dumbledore to win decisively against Voldemort, or the war would have ended the day it officially began in 1970, and for all that he had been through and the number of Aurors he could single-handedly outfight, Harry did not really honestly believe he was anything like a close approximation of Dumbledore. Also, he had recently been on fire and it hurt to move and he was dizzy and tired and slow.
So he tried to run away.
Unfortunately, perhaps because Dumbledore had not been wholly confident he would not end up unconscious on the floor with the Stone in his pocket without setting his Defense professor on fire first, this did not work; he bounced very hard off the burning portal, flame-freezing charms and all, and took a conjured cannonball directly to the chest.
For a long and very uncomfortable second, he was absolutely certain he was going to die and everything would be ruined forever, which is why he didn’t quite think through all the ramifications of the next thing out of his mouth as he hit the ground. Which was, half-choked through what was almost certainly several broken ribs, “prophecy says if you kill me you die.”
She stopped dead, wand raised high and eyebrows raised higher. “Liar.”
“I know, I thought it was really stupid too,” he said. This was a really good opportunity to sucker punch her, he thought, but unfortunately he seemed to have entirely run out of ability to move any of his limbs and so he was just kind of lying here angrily. “But that’s the rest of it. I live, you’re immortal, I die, you’re dead. That’s what happens when you’re an idiot and you Horcrux an infant apparently. Self-fulfilling sort of deal.”
“I what .”
“Right?” said Harry, trying to figure out where his arms were so that he could at least muster some kind of defense if she decided it was murder time. It wouldn’t help but he’d feel better about himself. “Dumbledore’s whole plan, bless him, was for me to heroically die to defeat you when I’m seventeen.” Plus or minus a really irritating scavenger hunt but let’s not talk about that, shall we.
“...Why are you telling me this.”
He sighed. It hurt, which was in a sense a good sign. “It won’t kill you fast enough to prevent you from murdering a lot of people and so I need a different plan.” Because immune to the Killing Curse in particular or no, he had no idea if he could actually nope arbitrary forms of death, and if he actually died right here in the Mirror room then … maybe everyone else would figure out how to do it without him? But even with bullshit chosen one powers and Hermione on his side it’d still taken him six more years, Merlin only knew what would get burned down before Ron and Ginny and Neville and Luna managed it no matter how talented and determined they all were. Plus, this wasn’t really a useful secret. What was she going to do, kill him about it?
She frowned at him with mild distaste and considerable astonishment. “Are you surrendering ?”
He arguably was doing exactly that, he’d pretty comprehensively lost this fight, but he very much did not want to admit it out loud. “Look,” he said instead, “I know you’re a horrible person who likes hurting people but you care more about being immortal than about hurting people, right?”
Eyes narrowed suspiciously, she did not dignify that rhetorical question with an answer.
“So how about this,” said Harry, who knew he was right and hated it very much, gazing resignedly up from the floor at what used to be one of his best friends. “I Protean Charm the Stone. I give it to you. I lie to Dumbledore about how brave and heroic and twelve you are. And if you hurt anyone I blow it up.”
Somehow she managed to look more suspicious. “Define ‘hurt’.”
Oh god why was this a conversation he was having why couldn’t he just have been better at duelling. He basically did nothing but practice for six straight years and still lost because Voldemort was bullshit and way older than him and had the god-damned lost diadem of Ravenclaw and this was all immensely unfair. “Augh. Um. … Anything that… obviously…” there’s no way, is there, “how about, anything a jury of Muggleborns with perfect information would be likely to construe as a crime.”
Voldemort made an eloquently disgusted face.
“Your other option is I blow it up now and also kill myself and you live the rest of your short and miserable life learning exactly how little of Dumbledore’s bad side you’ve actually met.”
He felt a little smug at the tiny, ruthlessly repressed, but very real shudder of fear that he saw pass over her face. Then he remembered little Tom sitting on his bed in an orphanage watching his armoire burn and felt bad about himself. Then he remembered the wall of names in the rebuilt Ministry and decided he could feel sad about little orphaned Tom when Voldemort was dead again and not before.
“So?” he prompted, after a long silence.
“ …. Fine you horrible child hand it over and I won’t damage any of your precious valuable human lives .” She said this last phrase with such sarcasm that he could hear the scare quotes. “Should have just murdered Evans when she was nineteen.”
“I mean, probably, but if you say that again I will tell Snape.”
Voldemort rolled Hermione’s eyes so hard it looked slightly painful. “Idiots, the lot of you.”
“Um,” said Quirrell, from the corner, somewhat plaintively.
“Oh jeez,” said Harry, as Voldemort very pointedly cleaned up around them the incredibly obvious evidence of a fight that would one hundred percent have killed any involved actual twelve-year-olds. “Uh, Professor Quirrell, I realize this is insane nonsense but since I don’t want you to die I’m going to need you to trust me that this whole fight was a trauma-induced hallucination due to you having been Imperiused by Voldemort for like eleven months and maybe just, um, maybe nod vaguely when we tell Dumbledore a story that bears no resemblance to it.”
Thus it was that the headmaster got exactly what he thought he wanted.
Chapter 20: Only Up From Here
I swear this one is supposed to be a comedy,
“Are you guys... okay,” said Ron, eyes flicking anxiously between Harry and Hermione.
There had of course been a great end of term speech which, true to Dumbledore’s usual sense of dramatic timing, ended in Gryffindor winning the House Cup by a very narrow margin, even though absent getting caught breaking the rules they hadn’t been losing quite as badly in the first place as they might have been. Ron got points, of course, for selfless heroism and the best-played game of chess etcetera; Neville got points for understanding that sometimes the hardest act of courage is trusting a friend to handle something dangerous; Hermione got points for brilliant puzzle-solving and for leaving her library comfort zone to support a friend in need; and Harry got points for listening to his friends, driving a dark evil from Hogwarts, and saving the life of his Defense professor, who would be taking a long sabbatical at the end of the year to recover from his ordeal.
Everyone had cheered.
Harry and Hermione had sat there, silently, glaring at each other across the table.
“Oh yeah,” said Harry, in a dull tone, “totally fine, it’s just that due to trauma bonding we now express best-friendness by sarcastically hating each other.”
“‘Trauma bonding’ is an incredibly stupid phrase. You’re just being a baby,” scoffed Hermione, stabbing a potato with exceptional viciousness.
Harry nodded. “There you go, see.”
“What happened to them,” said Parvati, concerned and baffled.
Ron made a despairing face. “I mean they fought You-Know-Who I guess but this is a really weird response to that ??”
“Sorry,” said Harry, “I’m sure it’ll be much funnier when we’re less exhausted. Today has been a lot.”
“This entire year ,” grumbled Hermione. Lavender patted her sympathetically on the shoulder, and to Voldemort’s dubious credit was not injured for her trouble.
Harry and Hermione spent most of the train ride home having a completely silent fight about which could glue more durable tracking charms to the other, in parallel with a considerably louder, barely plausibly deniable Discussion™ about how best to spend the summer. Hermione was of the stated opinion that he should obviously locate Nicolas Flamel and apologize for blowing up his life’s work, maybe see if he’d offer any help before he died. Harry felt that this was … actually not the worst possible idea, which just made him more suspicious that she had some very worrying ulterior motive, but he’d really rather be figuring out where the heck the floating spirit of original Voldemort was.
Because notwithstanding what he’d told Dumbledore, as far as he could tell, the ominous floating remnant of Voldemort that had nearly killed him when he was eleven for the first time hadn’t actually been present at all. Quirrell had just been Imperiused all year, not possessed. Which was weird, even among all the other weird things, and he wasn’t sure what to conclude from it. Obviously (well, at least now that he’d been thinking about this all week) Sirius had found the Diadem in its expected location, failed to resist its bullshit and, knowing that it would be intractable to hide it on his person when Harry expected him to have it, handed it off to someone Harry wouldn’t suspect, but that would probably have been her only opportunity to extract information from him. Would just-that-minute-possessed Hermione have been able to Legilimens Sirius very effectively, even given that at the time he had been fairly recently Demented and also probably mind-controlled into Stunning himself or something?
It had taken Tom’s diary months to do whatever it had done to Ginny, but nearly everything about that scenario had been different and Harry had no idea which things mattered. Ginny had been six years older, and the diary had been sliced off of a Tom that was a decade or so younger and less experienced but might have been a bigger slice because it was the first one. And to make it worse they clearly weren’t even attempting the same thing; if Tom had successfully killed Ginny, the result would have been an actual Tom Riddle and a dead body, not whatever Hermione currently was, which… well, jokes about horrifying gestalt people to Dumbledore or no, he really had no idea. He might technically know more about Horcruxes than basically anyone except Dumbledore and Moody and Voldemort himself, but in a very real sense he also knew approximately nothing. So how was he supposed to guess what Hermione might know, how long she might have been functionally Voldemort as opposed to mostly herself with patches of amnesia like Ginny had been experiencing?
At minimum clearly she’d known to expect him to expect a controlled Quirrell, which she had to have learned from Sirius - for that matter the fact that Harry was from the future she could only have gotten from Sirius - but she either hadn’t known he’d been expecting a troll or had decided for some reason to skip it anyway. Had he even told Sirius that story? He must have, right, it was the start of his friendship with one of the most important people in his life. Probably for tactical reasons he was going to have to assume she knew anything Sirius had known at that point but this had kind of an obvious problem where he … was not sure what exactly Sirius had and had not known six years ago when they very stupidly decided he should go to Hogwarts looking for ancient cursed artifacts without any backup mere months (weeks? he couldn’t recall) after he’d left Azkaban.
“You could visit my house,” suggested Ron hopefully, after a lull in the conversation spawned by Harry suggesting dryly that perhaps they should spend the summer in therapy and Hermione making a disgusted, offended face like she’d just been slapped in the face with a dead squirrel.
“That sounds really great, Ron, I’d love to meet the rest of your family, but um,” he really did not want Voldemort in the Burrow and also had a lot to do aaaaaaa, “I don’t know if, uh -”
“Oh, that sounds lovely, Ron!” interrupted Hermione brightly, shooting him a smug glance.
“ - I mean, yeah, of course.” He sure wasn’t letting Voldemort visit the Burrow without him , not even if her obvious sole reason for doing that was to force him to spend time playing nice with children instead of figuring out what horrifying designs she had on Nicolas Flamel’s library.
It was going to become rapidly inconvenient, he suspected, that if he wanted to lock himself in the attic and claim to be doing his homework and disappear everyone would very reasonably think that was incredibly concerning behavior and become very worried about him, whereas if Hermione did that everyone would be like yep, that seems like normal healthy Hermione behavior .
“Great!” said Ron brightly, clearly choosing to believe that them agreeing on something was a great sign. “I’ll ask Mum what time’s good and let you know?”
Harry considered this. “Uh, for security reasons it’s not possible to send random owls to my house unless you are an Alastor Moody level of determined. I guess you could call me on the phone?”
“The what now?”
“It’s a Muggle thing.” It had been a disaster last time but most of the disaster had been Vernon, right? “Sort of like the Floo but with just your voice.”
Should he pretend to ask Hermione for her phone number, Harry wondered, even though obviously he had had it for six years? He still didn’t really want anyone at Hogwarts being able to figure out where he oh god damnit Voldemort knows where he lives .
“Alternatively,” he said, distantly, because the prospect of figuring out how to handhold twelve-year-old Ron through Muggle technology suddenly sounded incredibly overwhelming, Voldemort had been in his house, in his kitchen , drinking his tea , “we can teach you to use the phone at some later date and I’ll just send Hedwig to your house in a week and she can pick up letters.”
“Sure, okay,” nodded Ron, who thankfully had not inherited his father’s unshakeable curiosity about Muggle objects.
He hugged Ron goodbye on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters and waved friendly goodbyes to various Weasleys and exchanged a profoundly awkward handshake with Hermione while their classmates squinted puzzledly at them. Then of course he stepped through the barrier and Apparated out halfway through, creating the smoothly dramatic effect of stepping in one side and not coming out the other. Because if you’re going to commit to mysteriously disappearing over breaks without explaining to anyone where you’re going, you at least have to do it with style.
Then he flopped face-first on the carpet in his living room and said “Sirius I think we need to move.”
“Uh,” said Sirius, from the couch, where he had been sitting rifling through international newspapers looking for things to Maraud at. He got up, though, and started waving objects into piles for packing. “Why.”
“Some quantity of Voldemort between a quarter and an eighth knows where we live.”
Sirius carefully folded a bookshelf into a box, checked the lock on the front door, and scooped Harry onto the couch. “That’s a very specific amount. Not … the whole Voldemort?”
“Almost certainly not yet but the amount may increase later depending how good he is at coordinating with himself?” said Harry somewhat despairingly, waving his arms vaguely as he adjusted to his new spot on a cushion. “Which I don’t know because I’ve only had to ever deal with one conscious piece at a time, this is uncharted territory that I am wildly unqualified for and we’re going to die and it’ll be my fault.”
“Ah-huh,” said Sirius, putting on tea, as one does in stressful situations. “Harry, I’m sure that -”
At this point he was interrupted by a fat parchment envelope appearing out of thin air directly above Harry and smacking him in the back of the extremely despondent head.
“Uh,” said Harry.
“Were, er, were you expecting … mystery … mail,” said Sirius, who was not really used to shenanigans happening without his participation.
“I was not,” said Harry, rolling over and squinting suspiciously at the envelope where it had settled harmlessly to the floor.
After about an hour of casting various detection spells at it, they were able to determine that the envelope was not, itself, magical in any way except that it was charmed not to open for anyone except Harry. It was, however, trailing all sorts of weird transit magic echoes, as though it had been Apparated into place but from much farther away than anyone could possibly go.
When Harry very carefully turned it over with a pair of kitchen tongs, they learned that it was labeled:
TO HARRY POTTER (ONLY) - OPEN WHEN ALONE
in, unmistakably, a very familiar neat script.
“There is like, zero chance this isn’t a trap,” said Harry. “That’s Hermione’s handwriting.”
“What?” said Sirius. “Why? Isn’t Hermione that kid across the street that grows up to be Minister for Magic and also your sister in law?”
“I mean, yes, but it turns out right now she is also Voldemort.” Pause. “Erm, or like a quarter of a Voldemort? I am not really clear on how that works.”
“... Oh.” Sirius resumed packing, with slightly more fervor.
“I probably should … not open it? But what if then I just fall into the trap anyway because I had even less information?” Harry frowned concernedly down at the innocent-looking envelope.
“I think Remus would say that there is never such a thing as too much information,” said Sirius, stacking miniaturized objects into a backpack. “But Remus has never met my grandfather and I think maybe sometimes where magic is concerned information can actually kill you?”
But they had made sure it didn’t have any hostile enchantments on it… “... kill me instantly ?”
“I think it’s usually more of a ‘slow creeping madness’ sort of deal.”
“Right.” Harry frowned. “How about if you promise to Obliviate me if I show signs of slow creeping madness.”
Sirius blinked concernedly at him. “Terrifying, but okay.”
The letter read:
I’m sorry this letter took so long to deliver, I had to have the most ridiculous fight with Mysteries. And, I’m even more sorry about this, we’re probably not going to be able to send another, part of the fight was that we had to blow up the Planets Room to do it and it is going to take ballpark fifty years to rebuild.
The bad news, if what I’ve said already doesn’t count, is that I don’t think it’s possible to fetch you back. I’ll keep trying, but honestly, assume the answer is no. The good news, though, is that whatever you’re doing - and I really doubt it’s nothing - it hasn’t affected our timeline at all this whole time, so I think we can safely assume it won’t. We’re still here. Ron’s been working with George at WWW, and Ginny’s coming up on a record number of championships, and Molly’s started making herself a pile of not-yet-labeled tiny sweaters for all the dozens of grandkids she’s going to end up having, it’s precious, and
[ ... positive familial anecdotes go on for several pages here ... ]
- and it’s illegal now to keep house-elves if they want to leave!
We’ll miss you, every day, but please don’t spend your life dwelling on it, all right? You saved us, and whatever happens with the alternate universe versions of us - or whatever it is you’re dealing with right now (you can handle it, I’m sure!) - we’re going to be okay.
P.s. Ginny made the ring. She can’t hold a quill to write to you without setting it on fire apparently, thus why I am the one who wrote this, but she spent four years on it.
There was, in fact, a ring taped to the bottom of the letter, which was probably responsible for the fatness of the envelope.
It was several entwined loops of shimmering gold, dotted with tiny gemstones of precisely Weasley red. When Harry, cautiously, eyes already brimming with astonished tears, picked it up, it helpfully flooded him with information about all the enchantments it was carrying, all of them carefully and meticulously locked to be invisible to anyone but him. A whole stack of shields, mostly, but also auto-resizing so the ring would always fit him perfectly, warming and cooling charms, notice-me-nots so that it would never be visible unless he specifically drew attention to it, a copy of what had to be the most recent version of Hermione’s power-reservoir project though he’d only seen it nearly seven years earlier…
“Oh,” he said, softly, cradling the precious artifact.
On the inside, it had an inscription:
No matter the distance, I will always be with you .
“Um,” said Sirius. “Uh, should I be -” he squinted at Harry, and started casting detection spells.
Harry didn’t look up until he was almost done. “What?” Pause. “Oh, wow, this looks a lot like I just got got by a Horcrux or something doesn’t it. Am I a dumbass who is full of memory charms right now.”
“No, you actually don’t seem to be enchanted at all,” said Sirius, in mild surprise. “What is that?”
“Well, if I’m not enchanted then it is… a letter from the Hermione from my home timeline and a wonderful gift from my wife,” said Harry, in a somewhat wondering tone. “You sure? Think I can put it on? Wait, shoot, I shouldn’t trust your word on this, the last one got you so hard you didn’t even notice, we should have Remus check.”
Harry, somewhat distractedly, explained what he thought had happened with the Diadem of Ravenclaw. He was having a hard time not feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He probably shouldn’t feel this relieved, the reality he currently lived in contained real actual human beings and a real actual human five-year-old had still been murdered so that Voldemort could prance around stealing Philosopher’s Stones and generally being an asshole, but his Hermione was okay, she still existed, she wasn’t gone forever into the formless quantum void, this tragedy had happened to - her counterfactual little sister, or something, that was still really bad but the afterlife existed and it just didn’t feel like anything near the same magnitude of bad as her being gone forever .
“Oh fuck ,” said Sirius, who was still focused on the present and on this revelation about why he had come back from Hogwarts empty-handed six years ago, and sat down very heavily in an armchair. “Yeah, you for sure should not trust my word on this, put that down and wait until Remus gets home. We’re going to have to explain some shit to him if we’re going to move without notice anyway.”
(Meanwhile, Hermionemort - Riddlemione? - Tomdemort?? - she’d actually just been thinking of herself as “Hermione,” even though, well -
Anyway, she told her parents very enthusiastically that she’d gotten a magic internship because her professors thought she was so talented and etcetera. That evening she had dinner with them to soothe their limited but nonzero sense that they should ever spend time with their primary schooler even if she seemed totally happy with her weird magic boarding school, and the next day she was gone, to have an “”internship,”” read, do evil shenanigans.
Was she going to resurrect the other parts of herself? Make more Horcruxes? Tag up with old Death Eaters and send them on quests? That’s for her to know and for Harry and friends to very unhappily find out!)
Two weeks before the start of term, Harry dutifully appeared at the Burrow, and smiled friendly-like and hugged Ron and said nice things to Molly Weasley about her lovely warm house.
And, of course, definitely did not in any way hex Hermione, who had tried to murder him two days previously when they ran into each other at a Death Eater meeting. It’s fine. This is fine. On the bright side, when Ginny spotted him at the breakfast table and squeaked and ran away, his instinctive feeling on this topic, bolstered by the warm presence of the invisible ring on his left hand, was not oh no, a terrifying creepy de-aged simulacrum of my wife but rather aww, an adorable tiny child closely related to my wife .
This was very reassuring. He was totally on board for his unconscious instincts believing that alternate universe tiny Ginny was his niece or something. That seemed healthy.
“So, uh,” said alternate universe tiny Ron, as they settled in to play a nice game of gobstones and watch the twins try to blow up a gnome burrow with muffins somehow and Ginny had disappeared into a corner to hyperventilate or something, “you guys feeling, um, less,” his words failed him, “weird?”
“Oh, yeah, totally,” said Harry cheerfully. “We are fully prepared to deal with whatever nonsense Hogwarts throws at us this year.”
Hermione grinned, and elbowed him in an uncomfortably friendly manner, and said, “maybe it’ll be snakes,” and Harry narrowly did not choke on his muffin.
“Aheh, um, yes, that would be hilarious!” he said. Oh jeez did she have horrible basilisk related plans. Why did he not think of this. He had been so busy dealing with moving and setting up a whole new shielded house in the mountains and fielding Remus’s endless questions and disrupting Death Eater attempts to have meetings and at a distant fifth doing his homework. Where was the diary he hadn’t found it and Lucius and Arthur had still almost had a fight -
“Riiiiiight,” said Ron, squinting at them. “Snakes are not good but they are better than spiders?”
“Also they are much more convenient, I can talk to snakes,” volunteered Harry, because honestly the last thing he wanted was to have to awkwardly explain this to Ron in the middle of some kind of horrible school drama.
“What, really??” said Ron. “That’s - that’s uh - you know that’s - “
“Yeah, I know,” laughed Harry, as a gnome sailed over his head. Somehow Fred and George had actually successfully created some type of pastry-based explosive. The twins were a joy and a delight and even if these ones weren’t exactly his ones he appreciated them anyway. “Due to chosen one bullshit I have mysteriously acquired this cool power that Voldemort has. He’s descended from Slytherin, see.”
“Ohhhhh,” said Ron. “Cool!”
“Right?” Also, Hermione was going to be salty about this extra reminder that right now she was in the body and history of a Muggleborn witch and not the Heir of Slytherin and could not demonstrate her own coolness by also having this power, which was hilarious. She was trying real hard over there not to make a face and he was enjoying it very much. “It’s pretty neat. If we ever manage to permanently kill Voldemort I think I lose the cool power but, you know, worth it.”
“And no doubt you’ll manage it any minute,” grinned Hermione, moving a gobstone so that it sprayed Harry neatly in the face. He sighed.
On the bright side, Alastor Moody had apparently retired, possibly out of sheer exhaustion with Marauder bullshit. Sirius was incredibly proud of himself.
Harry sent him a card with a coupon for a bakery.
( Happy retirement! We’ll do our best not to bother you too much. I would have baked you a cake myself but I know you’d throw it away. -- HJP :))